With Detroit Lions veteran safety DeShon Elliott all but declared out for Saturday’s game against the Carolina Panthers due to a shoulder injury, the Lions are in a precarious spot to fill his void. Already down safety Tracy Walker for the year, the Lions must choose between two reserve options, both with little experience on defense: special teamer C.J. Moore and 2021 third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu.
Lions coach Dan Campbell indicated on Thursday that both will get some playing time on Saturday.
“(Melifonwu) is going to get some plays. He’s going to play a little bit. That’s for sure,” Campbell said. “As will C.J. and of course Kerby (Joseph) will be there on the other side.”
Moore was the mid-game replacement for Elliott last week, and he has the most experience out of the two reserve options. Though he has only started one game at the position in his four-year NFL career, he has 336 defensive snaps scattered across that time.
Melifonwu, however, lacks almost any experience at the safety position. In his rookie season, he played cornerback for the Lions. He ended up starting making seven game appearances and four starts, but his year was mostly defined by struggling through injury.
This offseason, they shifted Melifonwu to safety, but, again, injury got in the way. A hamstring injury caused him to miss the first two weeks of the season, and then he missed another four-game stretch with an ankle injury. In between injuries, Melifonwu has just seen the field for six defensive snaps and 67 on special teams. But now that he’s fully healthy, Campbell said it’s time to see what they’ve got in him.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Campbell said. “He’s taken enough reps now. He’s been back a while now. It’s about three or four weeks now, he’s been with us, he’s been practicing and putting some days together. Let it go, man.”
The Lions drafted Melifonwu last year, because of his intriguing athletic traits. At 6-foot-2 with 4.48-speed and a wingspan that puts him in the 90th percentile, the second-year defensive back has all the necessary physical characteristics to play safety. Now he just needs the experience.
“We just like his ability,” Campbell said. “He’s got some range to him. He’s not afraid to get down there and tackle. Some of the (lack of) experience would be the big thing, but we felt that he’s another one of our young guys who, we just, let him go. Cause he’s aware enough, he just needs the battle reps.”