Lions rookie safety Kerby Joseph ahead of curve, still has to earn snaps in secondary

Detroit News

Allen Park — As training camp approaches, Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott are in line to be the two starting safeties for the Lions in 2022, but that doesn’t mean guys like rookie Kerby Joseph can’t carve out a role.

In fact, safeties coach Brian Duker said Joseph is in a better place than he anticipated.

“I would say Kerby is actually ahead of where I thought he’d be, to be honest with you,” Duker said this month. “I was really pleasantly surprised with him. With him, the biggest thing is just learning the verbiage. It’s so much bigger of a playbook than he’s really used to.”

Duker said one of Joseph’s biggest strengths coming out of college was his ability to play center field and what he saw throughout OTAs confirmed that.

Joseph registered five interceptions in his senior season with Illinois in 2021.

“We always really knew he was a really rangy safety,” Duker said. “When he’s playing deep and the ball is in the air, he’s the same guy he was in college. He’s awesome at that. He goes and gets the ball.

“Now, for us, it’s how do you fit the run in our system? How do you play bunches in our system? How do you do all those kinds of things? He’s done a really good job and is ahead of where I thought he’d be.”

That range and knack for generating turnovers is an important tool Joseph has in his toolbox. If he has the natural sense to make a play on the ball, Duker said the coaching staff can teach him everything else.

“One of the things he’s shown, regardless of what the coverage is, the guy has an innate ability to get his hands on the ball,” Duker said. “It shows up every day in practice, (he) gets his hands on the ball. That’s as good as an attribute you can ask for out of a safety to start with.

“We’ll kind of teach him the rest from there, but he’s going to get his hands on the ball every day, so that’s been awesome.”

But just because Duker feels good about Joseph’s ability now doesn’t mean he’s an instant lock to get snaps this upcoming season.

“As much as you can, you like to get all those guys opportunities to play,” Duker said. “Really, (though), we go back to play time is earned. So if he does a good job and shows he’s really got value, we have a lot of packages, we’ve got a lot of different things we can do.

“Let’s say it’s third down and he can go get the ball and we want to put a bunch of (defensive backs) on the field and he earns that spot. That would be a great opportunity for him and I’d be really excited to see him get the opportunity to go and do that.”

No matter how much Joseph plays this season, though, it’s all about development in his rookie campaign, and he’s got an excellent opportunity to grow under two veteran safeties while simultaneously competing with them to get on the field.

“He’s come in as a humble rookie, which is something we certainly appreciate,” Duker said. “You recognize he’s got two good, experienced guys ahead of him and just try to learn everything he can from them. Tracy has really taken him under his wing, particularly.”

Twitter: @Rich_Silva18

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