Bobby Price had never played a day of cornerback in his life before the Detroit Lions approached him last week about switching positions.
In high school, Price said he played exclusively quarterback. In college, he was recruited as a receiver and switched to safety once he began at Norfolk State.
And now that he’s trying a new position in the middle of training camp while competing for a roster spot? Well, it’s not as easy as some people would have you believe.
“Hell no,” Price said after practice Tuesday. “It’s a lot different than playing safety. Safety you’ve got to make a lot more calls, so it’s a lot more on the mental. But corner is covering guys wherever they go. So it’s a different transition, but I feel like I’m athletic enough and I have the capabilities to play this position.”
Price saw extensive reps at right cornerback in the Lions’ controlled scrimmage Tuesday and was a favorite target of quarterback Jared Goff.
On one series, Price got beat on an inside route by Kalif Raymond on third-and-14, then gave up a long pass down the sideline to Raymond on the next play.
Price, who mentioned Raymond and the equally-shifty Victor Bolden as his two toughest matchups so far in camp — at 6 feet 3, Price has a substantial size advantage on both, but can’t match their short-area quickness — was extremely late recognizing a back-shoulder fade to Quintez Cephus later in practice.
Still, as rough as he looked at times, Price said he had to use the proper perspective to evaluate his day.
“Just like me playing in the scrimmage, I did better than I feel like I was going to do at corner, cause I’ve never played the position before,” he said. “So just being in the game situation and seeing how good I could have performed just pushes me to go even harder now.”
After practice, Price spent 10 minutes with Mike Ford working on hand placement at the line of scrimmage. Ford, in his fourth season, then took their teaching session to the field, where he recruited Tyrell Williams to run routes so he could demonstrate more technique.
“I’m trying to get better, work on my hands at the line, just try and get comfortable at corner,” Price said. “I’ve always played safety so just trying to figure out when I transition my eyes, when I’m supposed to look back. Just working press-jam. Just different techniques at corner.”
Price said Ford helped with one of his major trouble spots in particular — knowing when to look back for the ball. As Price explained it, the most difficult part of the position switch is going from facing the quarterback all the time to playing with his back to the ball.
Learning route concepts should help.
“A wide receiver usually runs his route, a breakoff is usually at like 5 or 10-12 (yards). After that 10-12, it’s basically going to be a go, unless he’s running like an 18-yard comeback,” Price said.
And so should simply having more time on the field.
More observations from Tuesday
• I’m a little light on observations today as I missed the install and individual periods of practice while I was writing after Dan Campbell’s newsy press conference. Campbell announced the Lions’ decision to release long snapper Don Muhlbach, addressed Alex Brown’s car accident and confirmed the addition of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu.
Neither new long snapper Scott Daly nor special teams coach Dave Fipp wanted to address the Don Muhlbach decision on the record after practice Tuesday, though it’s clear Fipp has a ton of respect for Muhlbach and the decision to release the long-time Lion was a difficult one.
I will say this: Coaches in the past have considered moving on from Muhlbach, but never quite had the guts to, for whatever reason. I haven’t watched Muhlbach’s play close enough this camp to give any real evaluation of where he was as a long snapper or getting down the field in coverage, but the old saying applies to the 40-year-old: Father Time catches up to everyone.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers are requiring masks at Heinz Field (so bring one if you go to Saturday’s game) and the Las Vegas Raiders will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine to attend home games. The Lions do not have any current plans to do either, though the organization will continue to monitor COVID counts in the area.
COVID has become so politicized that many pro sports organizations seem afraid to take a position on reinstating pandemic-related policies, even though they have access to some of the top doctors and epidemiologists in the world through their league and local connections. Perhaps it will take state or local health departments re-examining their policies to get organizations to institute mask or vaccine guidelines for the safety of their fans.
• Quintez Cephus made the catch of the day on the final play of practice Tuesday, when he bobbled, then caught, a deflected pass in the back of the end zone for a practice-ending touchdown. Cephus caught a back-shoulder fade against Price on the same drive and has popped a few times since returning from injury. He doesn’t provide a ton on special teams, but he’s absolutely deserving of a roster spot at this point.
• The Lions did their angled one-on-one tackling drill before their controlled scrimmage Tuesday, and a couple players made moves that stood out. Alize Mack, who is the favorite for the No. 3 tight end job, leaped over Jalen Elliott, drawing “oohs” from the crowd, Jerry Jacobs made a nice tackle on Amon-Ra St. Brown and rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu hit Victor Bolden to force a fumble that he recovered. That was the first time I’ve seen a forced fumble in the drill the Lions have run several times this training camp.
• A.J. Parker continues to take first-team reps at the slot cornerback spot. He had sticky coverage on Raymond on a third-and-9 play at the start of the scrimmage to force a punt by the first-team offense, but also got beat for a touchdown catch by St. Brown on a slick corner route.
• Most of Goff’s success Tuesday seemed to come against the Lions’ second-team defense, or at least the second-team secondary. As mentioned, he picked on Price quite a bit, though from my vantage point, his touchdown pass to Tyrell Williams should have been blown dead because of a sack by Romeo Okwara.
• Levi Onwuzurike got a decent amount of first-team reps at defensive tackle Tuesday. He had a sack on a third-and-goal play and was noticeably in the backfield on several other plays. Onwuzurike has missed time this summer with a back injury, but he said after practice that he feels fine, doesn’t have much rust to knock off and is ready to play Saturday against the Steelers.
• Trey Flowers and Jahlani Tavai also had drive-stalling sacks Tuesday. Flowers’ sack came a few plays after cornerback Jeff Okudah was yelling at someone on the Lions offense, perhaps left tackle Taylor Decker. For the Lions to surpass expectations this fall, they’ll need big seasons out of both Flowers (rushing the passer) and Okudah (in coverage). I don’t know if Flowers has an eight-sack season in him, but he’s starting to grow on me as an outside linebacker.
• T.J. Hockenson missed another practice Tuesday, and D’Andre Swift did not take any team reps during the scrimmage. At this point, there is no reason to expect either to play Saturday — and I wouldn’t play Hockenson in next week’s preseason finale against the Indianapolis Colts, either. Hockenson is the Lions’ best offensive weapon and, as has been referenced plenty this camp, the offense seems sluggish without him on the field.
• If you didn’t catch the Lions at training camp already, sorry to say you’ll have to wait until next year. Tuesday’s practice marked the Lions’ final public workout of summer, though practices are open to the media in their entirety for another week, which means you’ve got a few more batches of my observations coming your way.