Young secondary helped draw Aubrey Pleasant to Lions
Detroit Lions defensive passing game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant has worked with some elite cornerbacks during his relatively short NFL coaching career. In four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, he had the pleasure of coaching Jalen Ramsey, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.
Between them, that trio has been named to seven All-Pro first teams and selected to 16 Pro Bowls. But Pleasant likes to joke that the best cornerback he's ever been around is Aaron Donald, the Rams' generational defensive tackle.
The point the coach is trying to make is a great pass rush makes life easier on the secondary, and a truly great defense is able to both affect the quarterback by pressuring the pocket and playing a mixture of well-disguised and sticky coverage in the back end.
In Detroit, Pleasant concedes the pass rush, outside of an occasional blitz, will fall outside his purview. That's fine, he has plenty to worry about in the secondary.
"Anything that comes in the air, I need to make sure I take care of it," Pleasant said. "Anything that seeps out in the run game, I've got to make sure I take care of it. The pass rush actually falls in someone else's category, but I will make sure to give them all the love that I possibly can to help us in the back end."
Pleasant jumped at the chance to join Detroit's staff for three reasons. First, the new title carries increased responsibilities and leadership opportunities. Second, it brings the Flint native closer to home. And finally, he's driven by the chance to build a legacy by being part of a historic turnaround for this franchise.
And, at least compared to some of the other assistants on coach Dan Campbell's staff, Pleasant has been dealt a solid starting hand with the personnel he's inheriting.
"When I went through the process of actually looking at this job, I took a look at the roster," Pleasant said. "I didn't pay attention to statistics or wins or losses, but I saw a group of very young, talented players that had a high ceiling and an ability to improve and kind of move forward. That's just what I feel about this group. We have a lot of different guys that have different skill sets. I think they're all very versatile and I look forward to working with all of them."
That group includes safeties Tracy Walker and Will Harris, as well as cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye and rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu. Each possesses desirable athletic traits, but with three or fewer seasons of experience.
From the outside perspective, Okudah is the centerpiece. Selected No. 3 overall in last year's draft, maximizing his abilities could be a critical component to the defense's overall turnaround.
"I think when you look at the organization, statistically, and with the record, you can point your finger in a lot of different directions about what went wrong," Pleasant said. "I stay away from expectations of players, but what I do know is if he can focus on the small things, I think you can see some of the production he was able to have his last year at Ohio State."
And Pleasant's experiences with Ramsey, Peters and Talib should only help him in his pursuit of maximizing Okudah's potential.
"I'd like to say first that I really believe all great players want to be coached hard and none of them want to be coached the same way," Pleasant said. "I think all three of those personalities are completely different, and I think you all know that.
"I think they also made me be my best every day," Pleasant continued. "When you're sitting there looking at future Hall of Fame players, you want to make sure you're giving them the best foot forward for competition, meaning game plan and preparation for an opportunity to make plays. I think those experiences in L.A. have forever changed me as a position coach as I move forward in my career."