Allen Park — Every path to the NFL is unique, with some more linear than others.
There are plenty of examples of guys who were five-star recruits coming out of high school, dominated in college and were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. But that road is actually less traveled than one might think. Most of the league is made up of guys who took a less direct route
Take Lions defensive lineman John Cominsky, for example. A dual-threat quarterback and safety for Barberton High School, about 15 minutes southwest of Akron, Ohio, he had almost zero interest to play at the next level. His lone collegiate offer came from Division II University of Charleston (West Virginia). So that’s where he went.
He arrived in Charleston weighing 220 pounds, but the coaches there saw room to add to his 6-foot-5 frame. They immediately moved him to defensive line, where he admits he frequently got whooped as a freshman.
Fast forward to three years later, Cominsky had packed on 65 pounds while retaining the athleticism that allowed him to succeed as a quarterback and defensive back. Invited to the NFL’s scouting combine that year after recording 16½ tackles for a loss as a senior, he thrived in the drills, including an impressive 4.69-second 40-yard dash for a man his size.
That resulted in Cominsky being drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Falcons, where he spent his first three seasons. But a coaching change and schematic shift meant he no longer fit, so he was waived this offseason.
Yet unlike the high school prospect no one wanted, eight teams — a quarter of the NFL — put in a waiver claim to score Cominsky. That’s not something you see very often. The Lions, holding the highest spot on the waiver order, ended up landing him.
“As humbly as I can say it, I wasn’t too surprised,” Cominsky said. “I run after the ball, I play physical and I’m a team guy. People want that on their team, but obviously there’s an appreciation of being wanted by that many teams.”
A Midwest product, he’s been a natural fit for the blue-collar culture emphasized in Detroit, and it’s been convenient for Cominsky to be so close to home, particularly after he and his wife welcomed their first child, daughter Emerson, into the world in May.
His skill set, centered around his versatility and athleticism, have also been a clear fit. Playing mostly with the third-team defense at the start of training camp, he’s steadily flashed reliable power and a quick first step that have allowed him to routinely disrupt plays in the backfield, meshing with Detroit’s shift to an attacking defensive front. And his ability to line up both inside and on the edge will only help his roster chances, assuming he can port that success into the preseason games.
“The Comish, man, works his rear off, he’s smart, and he does have versatility,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He can play the big end, he can play some three-technique on rush downs, and honestly, it’s really about getting him some more looks with some of the better (defensive) units. We got to get him in there a little bit more versus the second and first units.
“We’re keeping our eye on him, but we like where he’s at. … Look, he kind of meets our criteria. He’s everything we’re about because he does, he goes to work. He’s a lunch pail guy, and he’s all out all the time, he’s very coachable.”
Poetically, Cominsky’s first game in a Lions uniform will come against his former team, the Falcons.
“It’s definitely exciting, seeing everybody I was with before,” he said. “I’m sure it can be a little bit of grudge match. It’s exciting to go out there and try to tear up their O-line and maybe show them what they’re missing out on a little bit.”
Rolling with the punches
Campbell didn’t watch the season premiere of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” On some level that makes sense given he’s lived having his every moment and word captured by the documentary crew’s cameras and microphones the past few weeks.
Who needs to rewatch something they’ve lived?
Of course, Campbell has heard from plenty of friends and colleagues about the show, which focused heavily on the coach during the season’s first episode.
“My close friends, my roommates in college, they were crushing me,” Campbell said. “So, I have an idea on some things.”
Campbell said his predictable mention of the band Metallica within the first few minutes of the episode was the root of many of the playful jabs.
The perception both locally and nationally from the program, and its capturing of Campbell’s approach with his team, has been largely positive. That’s all well and good, but he noted he’s only being himself, for better or worse.
As for what he hopes people ultimately take away from the five-part series that will continue to air every Tuesday through the first week of September, Campbell wants fans to recognize his and the team’s desire to turn this thing around.
“I hope to take this that, man, we value wins and we’re looking to win,” Campbell said. “That’s what matters out of all this other stuff, all the smoke and mirrors, the clouds — we’re trying to focus on winning. We’ve got to find a way to win because (if not) it’s all for not.
“Man, you lose your first three games or something and all of a sudden I’m getting run out of town. That’s the reality and these players don’t look as good. So, we’ve got to find a way to win. That’s what camp is about and we’ve got to be ready to go.”