New cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ready to make 'footprint' with Lions

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Veteran cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman had his options in free agency.

Since the spring, he had heard from the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. But he passed on those opportunities, opting to sign with the Lions on Monday.

Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman (31) says he picked the Lions out of "six or seven" teams.

“I had about six or seven teams that were calling and checking in on me,” Robey-Coleman said after Wednesday’s training camp practice. “But when I came here, the people were the right people to go with, so I took my talents here.”

Among those people are a few familiar faces in general manager Brad Holmes and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant. When Robey-Coleman was with the Los Angeles Rams from 2017-19, Holmes was the franchise’s director of college scouting and Pleasant served as his position coach all three years.

There’s also a common tie that binds Robey-Coleman and coach Dan Campbell. Robey-Coleman was at the center of the controversial no-call in the 2018 NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints — whose staff Campbell was on — and Rams, committing an unpenalized pass interference and laying out receiver Tommylee Lewis near the end of regulation.

Robey-Coleman, though, hasn’t brought that play up yet with his new coach.

“It's a mutual feeling between us two. We know how it is, how it went,” said Robey-Coleman, who spent last season with the Philadelphia Eagles. “It's just something that happened, and we just moved on.

“But now I'm here ready to start something new, something different."

An eight-year veteran with 30 career starts under his belt, Robey-Coleman has a chance to come in and earn reps right away at slot cornerback, with Corn Elder nursing a hamstring injury and Mike Ford being moved outside.

While Robey-Coleman's addition may be overlooked, he could have a real shot to make the roster. When former cornerback Rashean Mathis signed with the Lions during training camp in 2013, he was brought in with the hopes of providing depth and a veteran presence, just like Robey-Coleman, before he went to start 36 of 38 games in three seasons with Detroit.

The fact Robey-Coleman is already familiar with the defensive style, which is similar to what he played in with the Rams, and has reconnected with Pleasant, whom he had some of his best years with, will certainly help his case.

“I love this scheme,” Robey-Coleman said. “It's really complementary. Everybody helps everybody. Nothing is where like this person is doing this and everybody else is doing that. Everything works hand in hand. So, what we show ain't really what's going on. It's more complex than just you see a two-high safety look, or you see a one-high safety look and think it's a Cover 1 or Cover 3. No, it's not that. It's more than just that to it.

“When we work together, that's when quarterbacks have a hard time figuring out what's going on. By the time they do that, they're probably sacked, incompletion or something like that. That's the difference between playing a traditional man-to-man but also playing like a real scheme defense where you're doing a lot of different things at one time.”

Robey-Coleman said the toughest part about getting acclimated at this point in training camp is getting into shape, keeping up with receivers and moving like he wants to, an adjustment he said will only take another day or two.

But on the flip side, he added he feels fresher and is simply “rehashing” everything he learned two years ago as he enters the fray for a secondary spot.

"This was the right opportunity for me because of the people that's here running things,” Robey-Coleman said. “I felt like I could come here, put a footprint in this organization, actually be a part of this leadership, and do something special, do something big. Not just win, but win big.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins