Amani Oruwariye learned plenty in the nine games he played as a rookie, on the field and, apparently, off it, too.
When asked Thursday if he considers himself one of the Detroit Lions’ starting cornerbacks, Oruwariye, who has taken first-team reps at right cornerback all summer, deflected the question like an Aaron Rodgers pass.
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“Nothing’s set in stone at all,” Oruwariye said. “I mean, we’re in Day 3 of camp. I’m really just focused on making sure … I’m playing well with everyone around me, making sure we’re on our Ps and Qs every day (and) coming out there competing.”
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Oruwariye has been perhaps the biggest surprise of camp so far, not in how he has played so much as in the role he has had.
The Lions overhauled their secondary this offseason, trading Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles, drafting Jeff Okudah in the first round and signing Desmond Trufant and Darryl Roberts as free agents.
Trufant and Okudah were almost universally penciled into the starting lineup, with holdover Justin Coleman in the slot. Yet it has been Oruwariye who’s been a fixture on the first-team defense through three days of pads.
A fifth-round pick out of Penn State last season, Oruwariye played sparingly as a rookie.
He appeared in nine games, made two starts and intercepted two passes. He played well as an injury fill-in for Rashaan Melvin in late-season losses to the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, but was relegated quickly to the bench when Melvin returned.
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Oruwariye told the Free Press late last season that he never got an explanation for his benching, but he hoped he left “a good taste in (the organization’s) mouth as far as what they have in the future.”
He made sure of that a few days later when he picked off a Rodgers pass in the season finale.
“I mean, honestly, Amani’s done a great job of coming in and just picking up where I think he left off,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said this week. “Physically, he’s got some amazing tools. He’s quick. He’s long. He can play physical. Certainly, I think he was trying to learn (last season). It was a little bit of a different coverage scheme, I would say, from what he had in college to what we were trying to do, and get out and be a little bit more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. So, as he progressed through that last year, I think at the end of the year when he had those opportunities, he made some really good plays.”
Oruwariye is far from a lock to hold onto the starting job this fall. In fact, it’d be a surprise if he does.
Trufant has played left cornerback with the first-team defense throughout camp, Coleman is a seasoned veteran in the slot and Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick, is too talented to keep on the bench for long.
But at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Oruwariye has the potential to be more than a backup.
“His movement skills are really good,” Patricia said. “And I think he’s starting to maybe open up the game a little bit in his vision. I think when you come in as a corner, as a young corner, it’s very narrow. You’re very concerned with your alignment, your matchup, your guy, your player, your coverage. And then as the corners go, because they are kind of so on an island out there, the more comfortable they get, they actually start to look at the rest of the field. It’s just a whole different position.”
Oruwariye said that has happened for him.
Previously: Jeff Okudah has a welcome-to-the-NFL moment, other observations from Lions’ camp
“When you’re coming in as a rookie, it’s like a freshman in college; it’s all new,” Oruwariye said. “The speed of the game’s faster so you’re kind of just worried about (making) sure you’re in the right position and not messing up. And now, all that’s kind of past me. That stuff’s easy, so coming into Year 2 it’s just a lot slower. Everything’s slower, the game’s slower, I can focus on other things that’ll help me grow as a corner rather than just getting lined up and being in the right position.”
No longer is Oruwariye “worried about not getting yelled at.” Now, he’s on the field with intentions of making plays.
“Really (I’ve) just mentally put myself in a position where (I) just go out there and try to be consistent every single day,” he said. “I knew I could do it, I know I can do it, I’m still trying to do it. I’m working every day to just put my best foot forward.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.