Detroit Lions’ Khalil Dorsey was out of football. With cuts coming, he’s proud of his camp

Detroit Free Press

Khalil Dorsey was sitting in his special teams meeting the night before the Detroit Lions’ preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers, scanning for his name on the screen.

Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp was discussing the next night’s kickoff plans and Dorsey wasn’t in his usual “RF” position — right fullback — on the return.

He looked at “LF,” wasn’t there, either, and when Fipp flipped to the second-half plan, Dorsey still wasn’t in the playing group. So he glanced at his tablet and, much to his surprise, he was penciled in as the Lions’ starting return man.

“They didn’t tell me anything, I just so happened to stumble upon it and then they’re like, ‘Dorsey, you ready?’ ” Dorsey recalled. “I was like, ‘Yeah. Let’s do it.’ ”

Dorsey hadn’t returned kicks since his college days at Northern Arizona — and hadn’t taken so much as a practice rep at the position in two years.

On the opening kick Friday, he lined up in the middle of the field at the goal line, moved to his left to field the ball at the 1, ran into a pile of defenders across the 20, bounced off another would-be tackler a few yards later and scooted upfield.

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Dorsey returned the first kick he fielded as a Lion 62 yards into Panthers territory. He made five tackles as a starting cornerback and capped his night by forcing a fumble that led to a Lions field goal.

Given one last chance to make a favorable impression before roster cuts Tuesday, Dorsey did his part to earn a spot on the Lions’ 53-man roster.

“That was a heck of a kickoff return,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said after the game. “It was a big turnover he created, takeaway that we had right before halftime, that he was responsible for. Good in coverage.”

Dorsey wasn’t the only defensive back on the roster bubble who impressed Friday.

Second-year cornerback Chase Lucas made a diving interception in the end zone and had two more pass breakups, and undrafted rookie Steven Gilmore tied Dorsey for the team lead in tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.

The Lions have difficult decisions to make sorting through their glut of capable defensive backs, but for Dorsey, the preseason feels like a springboard to better things.

“I feel like I did, like, a pat on the back,” he told the Free Press after the Panthers game. “Things haven’t been going my way for the past couple years, and this year it’s just the energy and environment here and how we come together and stuff, it’s just phenomenal.”

Dorsey entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens during the COVID spring of 2020.

He opened the season on practice squad, played in six of the Ravens’ first eight games, then suffered a left shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery.

Dorsey missed all of the 2021 season with a right shoulder injury, and he was cut by the Giants the following summer in training camp.

As he made the three-hour drive from the Giants’ New Jersey training facility back to his apartment in Baltimore following his release, Dorsey contemplated his NFL future. Was he good enough? Why couldn’t he stay healthy? What did he have to do to get another chance?

“I was angry,” Dorsey said. “There was a whole bunch of emotions.”

Dorsey rededicated himself to special teams at the urging of one of his former coaches with the Ravens, Anthony Levine, and stayed diligent with his workout routine for the next few months. He woke at 5 a.m. every day to run through drills with his brother, Tommie, a personal trainer and former player at NAU.

But as summer crept into fall and the holiday season rolled around, Dorsey worried he might not get another chance.

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In December, with no NFL offers for going on four months, Dorsey applied for a job at a local grocery store and signed up to be a delivery driver for DoorDash and Uber Eats. Days later, just as he got approval to start at DoorDash, the Lions brought him in for a workout and signed him to the practice squad.

Dorsey did not appear in a game for the Lions last season, but he played well enough in practice to earn a future’s deal in January. This summer, he has played primarily as a backup cornerback and everywhere on special teams, and his standout work in the kicking game earned him a longer look from the Lions last week.

Dorsey took first-team reps at gunner in the team’s jog-through practice dedicated to the Kansas City Chiefs, and along with handling kick return duties against the Panthers, Fipp asked Dorsey to play a different spot on the kick cover team.

“They’re just trying to see like, hey, we can see you fill the gap, we want to see your speed, too,” Dorsey said. “So I was like, alright. I didn’t say put me at the five (the outside spot on kick cover), but they put me at the five. I’m not sure if I hadn’t played the five since my rookie year, so whatever it takes.”

And now, whatever happens, Dorsey said he can sleep well knowing he had a good camp and played well enough to earn a job somewhere in the NFL.

“I hope (this is my) home,” he said. “I know how it works, though. There’s 31 other teams, so whatever happens, happens. I mean, I ain’t got any beef with anybody. I’m cool with Chase, I’m cool with all these boys, so if they get it, good for them. I put some good stuff on tape, hopefully somebody will pick me up. I mean, that’s all I can pray for.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett

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