Lions’ Aaron Glenn: Amani Oruwariye can develop into ‘shutdown corner’

Detroit News

Allen Park — If last year was a breakout season for Detroit Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye, he’s spent the 2021 campaign stacking plenty of bricks upon that foundation.

With his sixth interception of the season last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, the third-year defensive back out of Penn State now ranks third in the NFL, behind only New England’s J.C. Jackson and Trevon Diggs, both of whom were announced as Pro Bowlers on Wednesday.

In part because of where he plays, and a larger part because of his team’s record, Oruwariye isn’t in that conversation yet. But if he continues to rack up the interceptions at this rate, national recognition is sure to follow.

No one will ever complain about generating turnovers, but now that Oruwariye has been able to repeatedly flash his ball skills, Lions defensive coordinator and former Pro Bowl cornerback Aaron Glenn is looking for his pupil to take his game to the next level.

“Shutdown corner,” Glenn said, when asked what that next level looks like. “Shutdown corner as far as his man (coverage) skills, as far as his off-man skills. We already know that he can go and get the ball. Can you put him on the best guy? Can he take that guy out? And, I think that’s what every corner wants to be able to do.”

Before Jeff Okudah suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener, the Lions largely planned to have their corners play sides of the field, as opposed to following around specific assignments. And while they’ve continued to deploy that strategy many weeks, there have been certain matchups where Glenn has asked Oruwariye to travel, including a four-week stretch when undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs was first being implemented into the starting lineup.

Regardless of what he’s been assigned to do, Oruwariye has generally been up to the challenge. For the year, he’s allowing just 59.4% of the passes his direction to be completed, similar to the 55.3% he allowed last year.

And one of the biggest differences this season is how well he’s trimmed down the yards after catch he’s allowing, cutting it from 7.2 yards per reception to 3.8.

Still, he’s not quite in that elite territory with his coverage skills. Atlanta’s A.J. Terrell leads the NFL among corners who have played at least 50% of their team’s defensive snaps, allowing a completion percentage of 44.6%. Jackson, New England’s Pro Bowler, is fourth at 50.6%.

And despite all those interceptions for Oruwariye, he’s only broken up five additional passes. Marshon Lattimore, who Glenn coached in New Orleans, has broken up 18 throws on top of his two picks.

Those are the gaps Oruwariye needs to close to get to that next level.

“Those guys are dynamic players, dynamic athletes and they have a mentality that’s different than a lot of other corners,” Glenn said. “That’s what really put those guys over the top is just the mentality. And, you have a number of those guys in this league. I do believe in that, I think Amani can get to that point, but again he has to put the work in.

“We’ve had several conversations, several conversations on him just growing,” Glenn said. “You know, I want Amani to be Amani. I don’t want him to be (Rams All-Pro cornerback Jalen) Ramsey, I don’t want him to be Lattimore, I want him to be who he is. Whatever that is, whatever I can get out of him, I’ll be happy with that. Right now, we’re getting a lot of him.”

It’s unclear whether Oruwariye will get an opportunity to keep making strides this week. Despite being on the field every defensive play in Detroit’s win over Arizona, and leading the team in defensive snaps this season, he’s missed the first two days of practice this week with a thumb injury, putting his status for Sunday’s game against Atlanta in doubt.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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