Allen Park — Corey Hilliard never has and never will think of himself as a backup. But that inner belief hasn’t altered the reality that he has been primarily a backup in the seven seasons he’s been in the NFL.
Hasn’t altered that reality yet, that is.
“I have been trying to take that ‘next step’ for eight years,” Hillard said with a chagrined laugh after the first day of mini-camp Tuesday. “I don’t know when it’s going to happen.”
Hilliard, an offensive tackle, has made 12 starts in four seasons in Detroit, seven last year. But he never was classified as a starter. He lost the battle for the starting right tackle spot to Jason Fox in training camp last season.
He got into the lineup and played well after Fox got hurt, but then Hilliard got hurt himself in Week 6, and that opened the door for rookie LaAdrian Waddle, who secured the starting role until he was hurt in the final week of the season.
“Something is holding me back from being a starter,” Hilliard said. “There is something I need to get better at. So it’s either my technique or I need to learn the playbook better or whatever. But I am always trying to better myself every day and that’s going to be all year — whether I am a starter or a backup. That’s not going to change.”
Through OTAs and the first minicamp session, Hilliard and Waddle were sharing first-team reps. It’s likely that competition will remain open throughout training camp.
“They played (last year) and played well,” coach Jim Caldwell said of Hilliard and Waddle during OTAs. “You take a look at what they’ve been able to get accomplished, and those two guys are working extremely hard. They have talent and ability. You probably remember, Corey was with us at Indianapolis, so I’ve known him since he was a young guy. He’s still young, but nevertheless, I’ve known him for quite some time.
“Those guys have talent and ability and they’ll do a great job.”
Hilliard still remembers the sick feeling he had last year when he lost the battle with Fox.
“Nobody likes to lose, especially to a friend,” Hilliard said. “Fox and I are good friends and he had bragging rights and all of that. I got over it pretty quick. It took about two or three days and it was back to business. I had to accept my role as a backup.”
He will accept the role again, if he must, but he won’t go down without a fight.
“First you want to make the team and then you want to play,” Hilliard said. “This is the same thing as last year, another tough task. I am going to do what I can do and whoever wins the job wins the job.”