Allen Park — Detroit Lions outside linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard played in 107 games across eight seasons before transitioning into coaching, and he says he’d be hard-pressed to think of a better performance by an edge defender than the one Charles Harris had last Sunday in the team’s 30-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Harris was everywhere in the contest. His 12 tackles doubled his previous career-high, which included three tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.
It’s the culmination of an outstanding season, a true breakout campaign for a player who had previously failed to live up to the lofty expectations that come with being first-round draft pick. Sheppard credited a combination of effort, situation, budding confidence and accountability.
“That guy, I’m telling you, that kid has worked his butt off,” Sheppard said. “Everyone is asking, ‘What have you done with him?’ I held him accountable, he knows my coaching style. At first, we hit some bumps in the road. He kind of looks at me and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I just said that to you.’ But now we’re in a place where he’s like, ‘I appreciate that. Thank you. I need that.'”
As for Harris’ confidence, after finally seeing the fruits of his labors five years into his career, Sheppard said it’s been night and day. The key going forward is to continue building on this season’s successes.
“Are you going to stay stagnant at that level, or are you going to drop off after a couple hot games?” Sheppard said. “That’s my deal with Charles, and I’ve expressed it. Every single week, I don’t care. And his games have been getting better and better. I hope this week is even better. My challenge for him is the same each week: You need to be better than you were the week before. Now, I understand what his stats were. But he knows today at practice, I will be running behind him in every drill, because I expect each week to be better.”
Next coach up
The NFL’s recent COVID outbreak hasn’t just affected the players, it’s also impacting some of the league’s coaches.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton couldn’t coach Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Bucs after contracting COVID, and on Wednesday, New York Jets coach Robert Saleh was also confirmed to have tested positive.
This certainly isn’t new ground for the Lions, who lost multiple coaches, including interim head coach Darrell Bevell and defensive coordinator Cory Undlin for a game late last season. With the recurrence of that scenario in mind after having placed 14 players on the COVID/reserve list the past two weeks, Lions coach Dan Campbell has a contingency plans in place across his staff.
On Wednesday, Campbell noted if he were to test positive, running backs coach Duce Staley would be in line to serve as head coach, while offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn would take back play-calling duties. And if defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn were knocked out for a game, senior defensive assistant Dom Capers would step in to handle defensive play-calling.
There’s also a third layer of planning if the virus were to spread more aggressively through the coaching staff, although Campbell and company are trying to take steps to mitigate that possibility.
“We’re trying to be as smart as possible,” Campbell said. “We still congregate, but we’re trying to be mindful, staying away from each other. We’re still masking up, even though it’s not technically required because we’re all vaccinated and boostered. But we’re trying to be mindful of it, when we’re around our players too, hopefully to eliminate some of that.”
Detroit got several players back on the practice field Wednesday as they begin a week of preparation for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
That group was headlined by running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, guard Jonah Jackson and safety Tracy Walker.
Williams and Walker return after stints on the COVID/reserve list. Walker actually had been activated last Saturday, but wasn’t able to test negative ahead of Sunday’s game against Arizona.
Jackson missed last week’s game with a back injury, while Swift has been out the past three with a shoulder issue. The team will monitor the dual-threat back’s progress throughout the week and Campbell is looking to ensure the injury isn’t lingering in the back of the player’s mind.
“I want to know he’s not thinking about the shoulder,” Campbell said. “That’s really the last part of this (recovery) is that, man, he has confidence in himself to take a shot. That’s what you’re going to be looking for. And I wouldn’t expect to see that today, but you hope every day you see more confidence as he begins to practice.”
Not practicing for the Lions were cornerback Amani Oruwariye (thumb), linebacker Josh Woods (neck) and outside linebacker Julian Okwara (ankle).
Another COVID case
The Lions placed another player on the COVID/reserve list on Wednesday, practice squad defensive back Chris Williamson. He had signed with the team on Dec. 14 to address COVID-related depth issues at the position.
Of the team’s COVID cases, Williamson is the eighth defensive back to test positive. With safety Jalen Elliott being activated off the list on Wednesday, seven Lions remain out due to the virus.