Over the past few seasons, the Detroit Lions’ safety group has been a problematic spot on the list. The abuse of players from the previous regime, combined with a lack of investment last season, has put the Lions in a position where they need to make changes as the 2022 season approaches.
First, they re-signed their Tracy Walker’s rear leader and put more on his shoulders as leader. Plus, they’ve shifted some player roles, moving Will Harris to corner and cross-training Ifeatu Melifonwu into corner and safety so he can be more of a match weapon. Next, they added a veteran DeShon Elliott, and for now, he’s expected to hold a lead role opposite Walker.
But their biggest move into that safety position off the season was probably drafting Kirby Joseph in the third round with pick number 97. I hope he – along with Walker – represents the future of the position in Detroit.
At the moment, Joseph, like all beginners, is still adjusting to the rules of the NFL and the pace of the game. But according to Lions safety coach Brian Docker, Joseph is making strides and exceeding expectations in his development.
“I would say Kirby is actually way ahead of what I thought it would be, to be honest with you,” Docker told the media at the last open day for OTAs. “I was pleasantly surprised by him. The most important thing with him is learning to dwell. It’s a much bigger playbook than he’s already used to. So really understanding all the calls that are included and sort of putting together your own kit is something we talked about in a whole bunch.”
According to Ducker, Joseph quickly integrated himself into the safety room and connected himself with veterans – specifically Walker – in order to shorten his learning curve.
“Kirby is a great guy,” Walker told the media during the small camp. “He gets close to his job every day and is always ready to work. He always asks great questions. He is very attuned to what is happening here.”
Docker’s comments corroborated what Walker had said about the apprentice’s work ethic, stating that Joseph is “humble” and realizes that Walker and Elliot can be very valuable resources from which he can learn.
While Walker and Elliott currently retain the starting roles, that doesn’t mean Joseph won’t be on the field. There is value in having a show of young players on the field, and if he earns playing time, the lions will find places to use them.
“Really, we’re back in play when it’s earned,” Docker continued. “So if he does a good job and shows that he’s really valuable, we have a lot of packages, we have a lot of different things we can do. So if he earns that, he really has a good thing – let’s say he’s third and he can get the ball and we want to put in A bunch of DB (defensive backs) on the field and he earns this spot, it’s going to be a great opportunity for him and I’d be really excited to see him get a chance to go and do that.”
As Joseph glances around the field during spring practices, the scenario Docker suggests would be a perfect use of Joseph’s skill set. Rolling Joseph in one high – his normal position – in a multiple defensive back set will allow his best attributes – range and ball skills – to shine through. If he is able to achieve success in this type of role, his confidence should increase as he continues to develop in other areas.
“We always knew it was really safe,” Docker said. “When he plays deep and the ball is in the air, he’s the same guy who was in college. He’s great at that. He goes and gets the ball. Now, for us, how do you fit into the run in our system? How do the combos play in our system? How do you do all these kinds of Things? He did a really good job and is way ahead of what I thought he would be.”