Allen Park — In the grand scheme of things, it’s an unmemorable and unglamorous play that will often go overlooked.
But during Sunday’s season-opening 35-23 win over the Cardinals, Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter rolled out a new wrinkle late in the first half that led to a key third-down conversion and eventually the team’s first touchdown.
Trailing 10-0 and facing a third-and-1 at the Cardinals’ 10-yard line with 2:55 left in the second quarter, rookie Alex Barrett, an undrafted defensive end, lined up at fullback with running back Dwayne Washington deep in the backfield in the I-formation.
For Barrett, it was his first time lining up at fullback and first time lining up on the offensive side of the ball since high school, where he played left tackle.
“The whole game I was ready for it,” Barrett said Monday. “It was just in the back of my head because we're playing at Ford Field and I never took a full snap in full pads at fullback, so that was part of it and I just wanted to do my job right.
“Getting in that huddle with Matthew Stafford is another experience, too. It's not like defense getting a call. He's spitting it out fast, so I have to hear everything.”
After taking a second to process the play call, Barrett lined up and was locked in. Following the snap, he burst through an opening on the right side of the line and led the way for Washington, who managed to pick up six yards and a fresh set of downs before being wrestled down.
While Barrett isn’t solely responsible for the critical conversion, he executed his assignment and made Cooter’s latest creative twist pay off.
"I mean most of the offensive line did their job up front,” Barrett said. “Everything was pretty washed, so I was pretty open. I was expecting to hit someone right away and I saw an open hole, so I just tried to get any type of flow and came over the top. Once I tried to hit somebody, we all just fell.
“After that play I see Dwayne over the top of me and he's almost near the end zone. I was excited even though I didn't really make a block but I did my job. He didn't get tackled till six yards, so it was a great feeling. I was definitely juiced after that and ready to go back on defense.”
Two plays later, the Lions scored on Matthew Stafford’s first of four touchdowns passes — a 6-yard toss to Marvin Jones Jr. — to cut the deficit to 10-6 and cash in after coming up empty their first four drives.
According to Barrett, the team approached him about the idea of potentially lining up at fullback since he has the size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and athleticism for the position, and he was all for it.
The Lions don’t carry a fullback on their roster and there are certain skills that translate over from defensive end, particularly the explosiveness out of a stance, so the more Barrett could do, the better.
Barrett said he and linebacker Brandon Copeland, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in the preseason, had tryouts for the role during OTAs after practice. That continued through training camp and last week, when the play was put into the game plan and Barrett got a better feel for it with more reps on the side.
“Most of the time we’re always looking for opportunities to use, utilize our roster as much as we possibly can, and then we’re also searching for body types,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We’re trying to see who we think, through evaluations, throughout the spring and summer, who could fill in that role.
“He’s one of those guys that could do it. And he’s shown that obviously, did a pretty nice job yesterday. But body type is such where he’s mobile. He’s got vision, and he doesn’t mind a little collision once in a while.”
The play was Barrett’s lone cameo on offense but might not be his last. Barrett, who also played tight end his freshman year of high school and had two interceptions over his four-year career at San Diego State, noted he has “some ball skills” if there’s ever a point he could receive a pass.
“I'm just going to be there to do the job honestly but I mean from that week if they put it (pass play) in then that's what's it's going to be,” he said with a chuckle. “I have a history of interceptions in the past in my college days. I got some hands.”
On defense, Barrett saw the field in a limited role on Sunday. He played 14 defensive snaps in his debut and assisted on one tackle.
"The snaps I was on the field I felt pretty good. As a whole D-line, we did really well,” he said. “We’ve got to critique everything, watch the film, break it down and execute a lot better. We could've had a lot of sacks and caused a lot of havoc back there, so we just got to work on that.
“I just need to step up and when the opportunity comes just seize it again.”
That goes for both offense and defense.