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2024 training camp preview: Safety

On the roster: Kerby Joseph, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Brian Branch, Brandon Joseph, C.J. Moore, Chelen Garnes, Loren Strickland

Key losses: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Tracy Walker

Table inside Article
Name Games Tackles INT PD
Kerby Joseph 15 82 4 11
Ifeatu Melifonwu 17 33 2 8
Brian Branch 15 74 3 13
Brandon Joseph 2 0 0 0
Chelen Garnes* 12 61 0 5
Loren Strickland* 12 31 0 2
C.J. Moore 0 0 0 0

*college stats

Best competition: Final roster spots

Joseph and Melifonwu made a nice pairing in the back end of the defense the final month and a half of the season and into the playoffs when Detroit finally felt Melifonwu was ready to start after switching him over from cornerback the year prior.

What will be really interesting to watch come training camp is how much we see Branch play safety. Coaches talked this spring about expanding his role in the defense and wanting him to be a three-down player, and that could mean some looks at safety. Branch didn't take part in OTAs or minicamp as he was rehabbing an injury, but it's certainly something to watch and could shake up both the playing rotation and numbers the team decides to keep on the roster at the safety position.

Brandon Joseph, who signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent last May, spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but took some first-team reps this spring with Kerby Joseph rehabbing a hip injury. He made some plays and caught the attention of the coaching staff.

Moore, a solid veteran who is coming off a year-long gambling suspension, is a special teams ace with experience playing safety.

Twentyman's take: Melifonwu is one of the more intriguing players on the roster for me. He was one of only three safeties last season (Tampa Bay's Antoine Winfield Jr. and Baltimore's Kyle Hamilton) with at least 3.0 sacks and two interceptions. Winfield started 17 games, Hamilton 15 and Melifonwu just six.

He came on strong after being inserted as a starter Week 14. In Week 15, he defended two passes, recorded a sack and a forced fumble. In Week 16, he logged two passes defended, 2.0 sacks and the game-sealing interception, allowing the Lions to clinch their first division title since 1993. And in Week 17, he recorded his second pick of the season. Over Weeks 15-16, he became the league's first defensive back to accumulate four passes defended, 3.0 sacks and an interception in any two-game span (since at least 1999). What kind of production can he have over the course of an entire season, if he can stay healthy, which has been an issue in the past.

Joseph is Detroit's first player since Bobby Watkins (1982-83) to produce at least four interceptions in each of his first two career seasons. He was also third on the team with 82 tackles and second with 11 passes defended.

If the Lions want to see what Branch looks like at safety how will that look? Will they use some three-safety packages? Could they rotate players in and out based on series or situations like they did last year when Gardner-Johnson returned from a pectoral injury late in the year? It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

View photos from the spring clean-up event at the Detroit Lions Academy on June 18, 2024.

By the numbers:

8: Over the last two seasons, Joseph and Justin Simmons are the only two NFL players to record at least eight interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

25.4: Detroit's defense allowed a conversion 25.4 percent of the time opponents faced a 3rd & 10-plus-yards situation last season, the highest percentage in the NFL.

36: Number of 10-plus-yard rushes allowed by the Lions' defense last season, the third fewest in the NFL last year. Detroit's five rushes allowed of 20-plus-yards were the second fewest.

56.7 & 57.1: Those were the completion percentage and passer rating for opposing quarterbacks when throwing Joseph's way last season, per Pro Football Focus.

69: The number of completions of 20-plus-yards the Lions allowed last season, most in the NFL.

Quotable: "Last year they were a little more hesitant with BB (Branch), to just kind of fix him at one spot, whereas now that he's going into Year 2, I think we'll be more aggressive with him. He's the type of player you want to see out there on all three downs," defensive assistant Jim O'Neil said this spring.

"We're going to push him to that but at the end of the day he still has to come out in training camp and he's got to take that job. I think he can be really good. I think he can be one of the better ones in the league."

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