'Crank Man' Dee Virgin cranks up the energy in bid to make Lions
Allen Park — When there's 90 players on the offseason roster, some inevitably get lost in the more obvious story lines surrounding the team.
At cornerback, for the Detroit Lions, plenty has been written about Darius Slay's pursuit for a contract extension, the position battle for the No. 2 job between Rashaan Melvin and Teez Tabor, and the big-ticket signing of Justin Coleman to play the nickel.
But successful teams are often defined by their depth, and while the top of the rotation carries plenty of intrigue, there are less-heralded players competing for jobs where they might be called on to offer critical contributions later in the year.
Enter a guy like Dee Virgin.
If the name sounds familiar, it's because Virgin was on the roster for a couple brief stints in 2018. Initially claimed off waivers from the Houston Texans just prior to the start of the season, he appeared in three games before he was waived to make room for another roster need.
From there, Virgin joined the team's practice squad, where he stayed until he got the call back up to the main roster for the season's final two games.
With a year in the system under his belt, a clearly more-confident Virgin is in the mix to retain that job in 2019.
"I have seen a lot of growth in the year with him," Lions coach Matt Patricia. "I think he is a guy that does have a pretty unique skill set when you watch him out on the field. He’s someone that can certainly help in the special teams roles that he has that he is trying to compete for, but what has been good is the defensive part of it."
Despite standing just 5-foot-9, Virgin plays more outside than in the slot, although he's capable of playing both spots. In the preseason opener, he got off to a rough start, drawing an obvious flag for pass interference on a long pass down the sideline. But like any good player at the position, he didn't let the mistake linger, coming back with a pair of pass breakups. Those ball skills have shown up regularly on the practice field during training camp.
"I thought, from the standpoint of what he did after that, and his competitiveness and his way to kind of bounce back, settle down, and use some of the technique and the coverage systems that we were calling at the time, I thought he did a good job kind of with that mental toughness to be able to handle that," Patricia said.
Virgin's attitude and effort have impressed coaches and teammates from the day he arrived in Detroit. Patricia praised the young corner's consistency, in that area, as well as his ability to take coaching.
The energy Virgin brings to the practice field on a daily basis has earned him the nickname "Crank Man" from teammate Darius Slay.
"He's a hard worker," Slay said. "I know Dee, when he first came in, he came in full-go, 100 percent speed. Every time, he gives his all. You know what to expect from him."
Like many players near the bottom of the roster, Virgin's best chance to lock down a job could come through his special teams contributions. In the four games he appeared in for the Lions last season, he averaged 14 special teams snaps. He prides himself on his versatility with those groups.
"Kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, jamming a guy up, running back the ball, I'm versatile, so anywhere they put me, I'll be happy to take that role and compete," Virgin said.
Although he's not currently in the mix, he did return kicks in college.
Virgin will get a chance to pad his resume this week, when the Lions conduct a pair of joint practices against his former team, the Texans.
"Will be another great week to hopefully see some development there," Patricia said.