Allen Park — Changing positions is nothing new for Detroit Lions defensive back Bobby Price, but the transition he’s trying to make now, from safety to cornerback, is the most difficult yet.
A high school quarterback, Price was recruited to run track and play wide receiver at Norfolk State, but by the time he arrived at the school, staffing changes altered those plans. Instead, he was asked to try safety.
Price quickly found parallels between the quarterback and safety positions, specifically having to make the play calls and get his teammates aligned. The change ended up suiting him so well he started four games as a true freshman and would hold that job the next three seasons.
His 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame and top-tier athleticism would earn him a shot at the next level, where he was signed by the Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2020. And after earning a spot and spending much of the year on the team’s practice squad, he netted a promotion to the main roster for the final two games of the season.
Price entered this offseason a longshot for the roster, especially considering the staff that signed and developed him had mostly been fired and replaced. But the new regime saw something different for Price than the safety spot he had been playing the past five years. About two weeks into training camp, they wanted to see if his size and speed could translate to cornerback.
“Look, Bobby is very intriguing,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He is a long, linear, explosive athlete who’s been playing safety. We think he can really help us on special teams, but now we’re not so sure that he may not be a corner because he runs so (well) and he is a really good athlete.
“… He’s a baby fawn right now as it pertains to corner, but he’s so talented. We kind of feel like this may actually be the better move for him. Let’s just say, hypothetically, you start getting down to cut time and we know he can help us on special teams and he just continues to grow as a corner and develop, but also can play a little safety if you have to have it, that’s pretty valuable.”
To say the transition is off to a rocky start would be an understatement. It was Price who was beaten for a long completion in the closing seconds of the preseason loss to Buffalo that set up the game-winning field goal for the Bills. And during Tuesday’s practice, he was getting beat over and over and over.
Not that that’s entirely unexpected. While it might seem easy to the outside observer to make the switch, going from safety to corner requires an entirely different skill set and mindset. He’s having to relearn how to use his hands, feet and eyes, particularly in man coverage, which he did very little in his previous role.
After Tuesday’s practice, he was one of the last players to leave the field, getting in some one-on-one time with fellow cornerback Mike Ford to help process those adjustments to his technique.
“How long will it take me before I’m comfortable? I don’t know, but I’m going to (have to) get comfortable real soon,” Price said.
“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.”
The biggest practice-field problems for Price have been Detroit’s smaller, shiftier receivers, such as Victor Bolden and Kalif Raymond. Just thinking about those matchups caused Price to involuntarily left out an exasperated expletive. He then mentioned how Bolden had simply ducked under his jam attempt on a snap earlier in the week.
Raymond’s change-of-direction quickness can be problematic for even a seasoned cornerback, so Price sees a silver lining from the licks he’s taking now as it pertains to his overall development.
“I feel like they’re going to make me better because those two are fast receivers,” he said. “Going against them every day, I feel like I’ll start getting acclimated to different receivers.”
Price’s meal ticket, when it comes to the 53-man roster, remains special teams. He hasn’t lost focus on that. In those two games he played last year, he saw 35 snaps on special teams and none on defense.
He’s hoping he can use kickoff and punt coverage, as well as returns, as an avenue to buy him enough time to develop at corner, with an eye toward contributing later in the year.
“My goal is to really dominate special teams, all four phases,” Price said. “Hopefully, make the 53-man roster on special teams, then later on in the year, hopefully I can progress enough to play some corner or come in on some third-down packages, whatever they need me to play.”