Detroit — Lions cornerback Steven Gilmore was in the back pocket of Jaguars wide receiver Tim Jones when quarterback C.J. Beathard uncorked a deep shot in the first quarter of the teams’ preseason game on Saturday afternoon. But excellent positioning isn’t always enough.
A small technical lapse by the rookie corner was the difference in a pass breakup and the actual result, a 48-yard completion that set up Jacksonville’s first score of the day in their 25-7 victory at Ford Field.
After the game, Gilmore acknowledged he had turned his head to locate the ball a tick late. Had he played it just a little better, he believes he could have had an interception. But the defensive lapse didn’t define his day. No, it was the way the young defensive back responded that resonated with Lions coach Dan Campbell.
Gilmore came back to break up a pass at the goal line, and when safety Tracy Walker couldn’t corral an interception later in the half, Gilmore secured the deflection for the turnover.
“I think those are the type of things you’re looking for from these young players,” Campbell said after the game. “These things are going to happen, you’re going to get hit on a play. Something bad is going to happen, you may get a flag thrown on you. It’s all about what happens next. You want to know if these players are resilient and I would say, Gilmore, that was encouraging.
“You give up a big one and then you go right back, you don’t bat an eye, you get a big knockdown in the red zone and then he gets a ricochet interception. Those are big. That’s encouraging. I think it kind of tells you, ‘Well, you know what, it’s not too big for this guy.’ He didn’t get frazzled, he didn’t lose confidence. He just goes back for more and those are the type of players you want.”
The code of playing cornerback is you have to have a short-term memory. You can’t dwell on a mistake and let it beat you twice, nor can you rest on the laurels of a good play you made earlier in the game. You have to play every snap with a clear mind. Gilmore understands that better than most as the younger brother of one of the NFL’s best to play the position the past decade, Stephon Gilmore.
“Having a brother who’s played corner for 11 years, he tells me all the time, ‘Keep it in the past,'” the younger Gilmore said. “I just try to have that same mentality out there — don’t get down, don’t get too high. Even when I make a good play, just try to stay levelheaded and make the next play, be ready for the next moment.”
Gilmore has had a good training camp for the Lions. Taking advantage of some injuries higher up the depth chart, he’s been seeing plenty of reps with the second-team defense during practice and drew the start against the Jaguars. And while he entered as a long shot to make Detroit’s regular-season roster, he certainly bolstered his case against the Jaguars.
“(I’m) just getting better each day, just trying to focus on that and take in every moment, work hard, just do the things they ask me to do and be in the right positions,” Gilmore said. “I feel like I put a lot of good things in tape.”
He’ll have another week and another preseason game to enhance his chances. But for one night, he can bypass the short-term memory and revel in the moment. He had already received an excited text from his brother after the game and teammate Will Harris saved the interception ball, a memento from a special day.