Allen Park — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell confirmed there will be some adjustments to this week’s playing rotation, but in a rare moment of discretion he declined to get into specifics.
“We’re going to give an opportunity to a couple of guys,” Campbell said Friday. “Nothing specific right now.”
But in talking with the team’s other coaches throughout this week, one guy in line for expanded playing time is wide receiver Geronimo Allison.
Allison signed with Detroit ahead of last season, but he ended up opting out due to COVID-19 concerns. He returned this year and battled for a job through training camp, catching five passes for 64 yards in the preseason prior to being cut.
He landed back on the team’s practice squad and was temporarily elevated for last week’s game against Cincinnati, but he didn’t see a pass his direction in 13 snaps.
“Was hoping to get him in the flow of the offense last week, but we were in the no- huddle so soon, I think middle of the second quarter,” offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “But definitely this week we’re looking to get him some more looks. He has size at that position, he has experience. He has played in games before.”
One of the coaching staff’s primary frustrations in recent weeks has been the number of missed assignments and mental errors. The thought is Allison, a veteran with 47 games and nearly 3,000 snaps of experience, could help the offense be more fundamentally sound as the unit tries to get on track.
“That helps, for sure,” receivers coach Antwaan Randle El said. “When it comes to the mental (aspect), it’s some issues with the young guys, in terms of growing, that you’re going to have.”
After two injury-plagued seasons, outside linebacker Austin Bryant is in the midst of the healthiest stretch of his career. And that’s paying off with the first two sacks of his career in the past four games.
“Y’all know my story, y’all know I’ve dealt with injury,” Bryant said. “It’s been tough mentally in the past, but to finally get a stretch of time where I’ve been able to be healthy and stay healthy, I feel tremendously blessed, man, because it’s a long road. To finally be durable and help the team week in and week out, nothing I love more than helping my teammates try to win a football game, no matter what the outcome is. So just having the opportunity to do that means the world to me.”
A fourth-round pick in 2019, Bryant appeared in just 10 games his first two seasons. This year, he’s played in five of the six contests, after being a healthy scratch in Week 2. With Romeo Okwara out for the year after tearing his Achilles, and both Trey Flowers and Charles Harris banged up, the Lions aren’t likely to sit Bryant again any time soon, as long as he remains healthy.
This week, Bryant is looking forward to possibly adding another tally to the sack column against former teammate Matthew Stafford.
“It’ll be fun to finally get a chance to touch him,” Bryant said, referencing the no-contact red jersey quarterbacks wear during practices. “Just these past couple years, being able to compete and then be on the show team every now and he’ll throw me a bone and be like, ‘Good rush,’ or something like that. It means a lot coming from a player like that.
“I’m from Georgia, I grew up a Georgia fan, so I used to watch Matt growing up all the time. To first be his teammate and then get a chance to play against him, it’s going to be fun for me. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully if I get him on the ground, he might give me his jersey or something like that.”
Over the past four weeks, following the release of veteran Jamie Collins, rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes has steadily seen his role grow.
At first, the Lions largely limited Barnes to run-down sub-packages, allowing him to build a strong base before sprinkling him into more coverage situations. He admitted the slow buildup has helped smooth his transition to this level.
“It’s kind of better for me just because I’m a rookie and there’s a lot to learn,” Barnes said. “I think they gave me just a few things to learn and that allowed me to get that down. And OK, now there’s something new, now I can add on top of that. It was really good and I’m very excited I get to work inside these packages.”
Barnes is coming off the best game of his young career, tallying nine tackles and a pass breakup against the Bengals last Sunday.
The Lions are counting on that continued development. They view Barnes as a building block for the defense, one who will eventually be the primary play-caller for the unit. That responsibility currently falls on veteran Alex Anzalone, who is doing what any good mentor should by making sure he’s preparing Barnes for the job in the future.
“Alex is a huge role model to me,” Barnes said. “Sometimes I get quiet because I get so used to Alex making the calls and he has to remind me, ‘Derrick, you’re going to be doing this one day. Make the calls with me.’ So I’ve been trying to get better at that. Not that I don’t know what the call is, it’s just like when you get used to hearing one person, it’s like, ‘OK, he’s gonna call it.’ But now, he’s on me about when I make the call, you make the call with me.”