John Cominsky wanted to make a good first impression on his new team, so when the Detroit Lions claimed him off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons in late May, he left his newborn daughter at home in Ohio and joined the Lions for organized team activities.
“I think it was the first week I came up without her, because the thing was like I need sleep for OTAs,” Cominsky said. “But the downside of not having her here, I was willing to lose some sleep and to be able to come home to her than to not have her and get all my sleep.”
Cominsky, his wife, Brittany, and his now 10-week-old daughter, Emersyn, have been almost inseparable since, and as the fourth-year defensive lineman embarks on his second week of training camp with the Lions, he said he’s found a new purpose in his incredible football journey.
“It just like adds to your why,” Cominsky said. “A lot of guys out here, we have whys and a lot of them it’s your family. And obviously it was my family prior to, but having a little girl it’s just different. It’s just like a different motivation cause you know that this can create a future for her. So knowing that I can create the life I want for her and do anything I want after this, it’s like, it just pushes you to play harder, be better, come in with a better mindset.”
For now, Cominsky, his wife and daughter are living out of the team hotel, and the three have spent extended time together on the field after just about every practice this summer.
When camp breaks for the night, Cominsky said he returns to his room and devotes his first 30 or so minutes to “just pour into this baby and give her all the time she deserves.”
TUESDAY’S OBSERVATIONS: Practice gets physical, even if it doesn’t sound like it
“To come home after a hard day, it’s like I’m driving a little faster and really excited to get there,” he said.
A fourth-round pick out of Division II Charleston in 2019, Cominsky had 41 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 27 games over three seasons with the Falcons.
He saw his most significant playing time as a sub-package rusher in 2020, but his playing time dwindled — he played just 13 defensive snaps in four games — after a regime change last season.
The Lions were one of eight teams to place a waiver claim on Cominsky in May, and the athletic defensive lineman has seemed at home in his new defense. He has played primarily as a backup interior lineman this summer, though he has the ability to flex outside as a big defensive end in some packages, and has been an impactful run defender through six practices.
“This defense is awesome,” Cominsky said. “When we’re out on the edge, they don’t slow us down as three techniques and we’re not reading blocks and staying square, we’re jumping off the ball and we have a little bit of freedom to maybe jump gaps if we need to. If we’re getting an overset from a guard or a tackle, we’re coming underneath.
“So the freedom to play, it’s definitely my style. I’m up on my toes and I’m jumping off the ball. I’m attacking and then I’m reacting. Just the opportunity to grow and the player that I think that I am, I just think this defense is more appropriate for my play style.”
A veer triple-option quarterback in high school who thought he’d play quarterback, wide receiver or safety in college, Cominsky has had a long, unique journey to the NFL.
He redshirted his first season at Charleston, and was so frustrated by his position change as a freshman that he begged his defensive line coach to let him switch to tight end.
He gained 70 pounds over the course of his college career, and by the time he left school he was one of the most feared defensive linemen in Division II, racking up 143 tackles, including 39.5 for loss, while facing regular double teams over his final two seasons.
With the Falcons, Cominsky endured the expected growing pains of being a young defensive lineman facing a jump in competition.
In Detroit, he’s fighting for a roster spot while re-learning to get up on his toes, play with his body weight forward and attack — and he’s doing it for the new most important person in his life.
“When I got claimed by Detroit I came in for three weeks of OTAs and those were really some of the first three weeks of her being her,” Cominsky said. “It was brutal just learning how to deal with a lack of sleep, but it’s awesome (now). It gives me something else to focus on and that gives you a little bit more motivation with football. When you’re tired and you’re thinking of your daughter, it’s definitely something that could push through something more than anything else.”
Exhibit A: Falcons
Matchup: Lions (3-13-1 in 2021) vs. Atlanta (7-10 in 2021), exhibition opener.
Kickoff: 6 p.m. Aug. 12; Ford Field, Detroit.
TV/radio: Fox; WXYT-FM (97.1).
For openers: Lions vs. Eagles, regular-season opener; 1 p.m. Sept. 11, Ford Field, Detroit; Fox.