Allen Park — There's a cliche in football that says if a cornerback could catch the ball, he'd be a receiver. Well, new Detroit Lions cornerback Desmond Trufant was meant to be a corner.
First, it runs in his blood. Both of his older brothers, Isaiah and Marcus, played cornerback in the NFL. Second, Trufant readily admits he's dropped his fair share of balls over the years, passes which should have been interceptions.
That's not to say he hasn't forced his fair share of turnovers. A first-round pick in 2013, he's hauled in 13 picks in seven seasons, peaking with a career-high four in 2019, when a broken forearm limited him to just nine games.
"I just felt like I was just locked in on my opportunities," Trufant said. "I've had those opportunities in the past, I just didn't catch the ball. It's just to be frank. It's not to say I wasn't in position to make those same plays. Last year, I was just finishing the plays I was in position to make. I plan on doing the same type of things (in Detroit). I'm looking forward to it and I'm ready to get to work when it's time."
After spending those first seven seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Trufant agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with the Lions that includes $14 million in guarantees. Added a day before the Lions traded Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles, Trufant will now be counted on to help the Lions replace the three-time Pro Bowler.
The draw for Trufant, beyond the pay day, was the opportunity to play for coach Matt Patricia. Of course, that opinion runs counter to Slay, who openly discussed a fractured relationship with Patricia as one of the top reasons he wanted to leave Detroit.
"First of all, I just got a lot of respect for him," Trufant said about his new coach. "He's had lots of success in this league. He's coached a lot of great players, especially a lot of great players at my position, as well. I know I can fit right into his scheme. I'm just grateful he gave me the opportunity to do me, to showcase my talents. I'm just looking forward to it. "
Beyond the interceptions, Trufant has long been consistent and reliable in coverage. In those nine games last season, he allowed only 23 receptions when targeted by opponents. But he also has played a different role than Slay.
Almost every week, Detroit asked Slay to shadow the opponent's best receiver. That's an assignment only a handful of corners across the league are capable of handling consistently. Trufant hasn't been asked to shadow a receiver since 2016, playing almost exclusively on the left side for the Falcons the past three seasons.
Whether that changes in Detroit won't be determined until the Lions take the field, whenever the current COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Among his brothers, Desmond has blown past the career numbers posted by Isaiah, a backup for the Jets and Browns who has been out of the league since 2015. Marcus, who played 10 seasons for Seattle (2003-12), still holds a sizable edge among the siblings in pass breakups (102) and interceptions (21).
Desmond, 29, doesn't like the idea of comparing himself to his brothers. As far as he's concerned, he's only competing against himself.
"Once you start talking about that, that’s just a matter of opinion," he said. "For me, I just want to reach my potential, as far as me playing at my highest level for the rest of my career. That’s just what I want to be. Only I know that. Only I know when I’m playing my best or I’m maximizing all my opportunities. That’s just how I want to finish this thing out."
Trufant thought he was playing close to that level in Atlanta last season, before the injury, and hopes to pick up where he left off once he joins the Lions.
"I’m just going to try to continue to pick it up even more," he said. "I bring a lot of energy to the field — a lot of energy, a lot of confidence, you know, swagger. I just play with that passion. Yeah, I’m definitely going to keep that going in Detroit."