Why Herm Edwards sees path to playing time for Chase Lucas in Detroit Lions secondary

Detroit Free Press

At 25 years old, Chase Lucas is easily the elder statesman of the Detroit Lions’ 2022 draft class, which has made him the target of some good-natured ribbing.

“He was at Arizona State for quite a while,” Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said. “I think he was there before I got (to USC) and was still there after I left.”

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Indeed, Lucas signed with Arizona State in 2016, when St. Brown, his eventual Pac-12 rival, was finishing up his junior year of high school. He redshirted as a true freshman, started the next four seasons, then stuck around for a post-COVID year when he was the de facto leader of the Sun Devils secondary in 2021.

Lucas already is one of the oldest players in the Lions’ secondary — Amani Oruwariye (26) and Mike Hughes (25) are the only older players among the 12 cornerbacks on the roster — but his former college coach, Herm Edwards, cautioned not to mistake Lucas’ age for a lack of upside.

“He’s a guy that, when he came out of high school he was a running back,” Edwards told the Free Press on Monday. “He was here before I got here. He was a running back and they moved him to DB and then I got him and had him for the last (four) years, so I think his learning curve is going in the right direction.”

Lucas played exclusively at cornerback for the first time as a redshirt freshman in 2017, when he earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors while getting by mostly on his athleticism.

Edwards said  Lucas started as “a guy with a no technique,” but spent the past four seasons building himself into a more complete player.

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“He was just kind of playing it and trying to learn it,” Edwards said. “But I think he’s become a better player in the sense of understanding formations, concepts of route running, all that kind of stuff. He’s become a student of the game.”

The Lions open organized team activities this week with playing time up for grabs in their young defensive backfield.

Oruwariye will start at one cornerback spot, and Hughes, who signed as a free agent this spring, should compete for a role somewhere. But Jeff Okudah (Achilles) and Jerry Jacobs (ACL) are returning from season-ending injuries and the rest of the Lions’ cornerback corps is young and inexperienced.

A seventh-round pick, Lucas is no lock to make the 53-man roster this fall. But Edwards, a long-time NFL coach who played 10 NFL seasons at cornerback, said his protégé has the skill set and competitive drive to be a factor in the Lions secondary.

“He has great transition skills,” Edwards said. “(As a cornerback), you’re always in a reactionary mode. You react after you determine what the route is. He has good closing speed. Has good straightaway speed, too. Can run. Ball awareness is pretty good. And his hands are better than what he shows interceptions wise.”

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Lucas had six interceptions in his Arizona State career, but none in 14 games over the past two seasons.

Edwards said Lucas’ numbers were hindered by the fact Arizona State played primarily man-to-man defense. Interceptions, typically, are easier to come by in zone coverage, when cornerbacks are facing opposing quarterbacks.

“(We) kind of had a pro model my whole time at Arizona State,” Lucas said. “Very thankful for (Arizona State assistant and former NFL coach) Marvin Lewis and Herm Edwards. It’s just like NFL, man. They treat you like men, they treat you with respect, but they expect you to do your job. I feel like it was an easy transition for me to come here.”

Lucas played primarily out of the slot cornerback position at rookie minicamp earlier this month and could have his quickest path to playing time there and on special teams.

He blocked one field goal in his Arizona State career, has punt return ability, Edwards said, and has the toughness and football intelligence to play inside on defense.

While the Lions have no shortage of slot cornerback options with AJ Parker, Will Harris and perhaps Hughes also in the mix, Edwards said there is something else that should help ease Lucas’ transition to the NFL: Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn played one season for Edwards with the New York Jets, and Edwards said Lucas reminds him some of Glenn as a player.

“Aaron wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was savvy, he had good foot quickness, he had good speed, and he was another guy, very competitive. Very competitive,” Edwards said. “He understood football. He was a smart football player. I mean, that’s why he’s a coordinator. Eventually he’ll be a head coach.

“Chase might be a little bit taller, but weight wise, as far as reaction ability, change of direction, a lot of that’s the same. There’s some traits there that Aaron can see in his self that Chase has, there’s no doubt about that.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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