Lions seek to optimize time for plethora of healthy cornerbacks
Due to a steady stream of injuries, the Detroit Lions have yet to have their full secondary available this season.
Last Sunday, it was Tracy Walker and Darryl Roberts who were sidelined. They joined the team's growing list of defensive backs who have missed time this season, including first-round draft pick Jeff Okudah, top free-agent signing Desmond Trufant and last season's defensive snap leader Justin Coleman.
But from absences have come opportunities, and no player has capitalized on those opportunities more than Amani Oruwariye. The second-year cornerback out of Penn State got the starting nod the first seven games and has been Detroit's best cornerback this season.
Last weekend against Minnesota, with Okudah and Trufant both healthy for the first time this season, Oruwariye shifted back into a reserve role. The plan, even before Okudah rolled his ankle and exited the contest, was for Oruwariye to get some snaps.
The Lions suddenly find themselves with an unusual amount of talent at cornerback and the team is committed to getting all their top options playing time.
"Yeah, I would say it's a good problem to have," defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said. "We got three guys that are very capable to help us win. You got to try to come up with a package or packages so they are all out there. They obviously all can't be out there at the same time, especially with Justin (Coleman) being back. We tried to mix it up there and make sure we got all of them out there at some point. ...It's not easy."
Undlin said part of determining the rotation is communicating with the players. He wants an honest dialogue about who feels most comfortable doing what within the scheme before finalizing defensive packages with coach Matt Patricia.
Against the Vikings, Trufant ended up pacing the group with 50 snaps, followed by Oruwariye (36), Okudah (26) and Coleman (17). The latter's playing time, his lowest since signing with the Lions in 2019, had more to do with a schematic adjustment to counter Minnesota's run-heavy offense.
Undlin also said the rotation will change weekly, depending on matchups. Of course, if Okudah's injury ends up sidelining him for Sunday's game against Washington, Detroit will go back to leaning on Trufant and Oruwariye, who started Week 1.