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Melifonwu focused on staying healthy & competing heading into third season

Ifeatu Melifonwu has a new uniform number, a full year of experience playing safety in the Detroit Lions' defense and a healthy start on his third season with the Lions.

That's a good formula for Melifonwu to get his career on track after struggling through injuries that cost him playing time in his first two years.

Melifonwu's expectations for himself in 2023 begin with being healthy.

"It's being healthy and being in a position to make plays," Melifonwu said after Wednesday's minicamp practice. "Whether it's safety or dime -- wherever it's at -- have a full grasp of the playbook like I do. Just compete everyday.

"Last year I was injured for most of the season. I didn't get a chance to compete."

The Lions drafted Melifonwu in the third round out of Syracuse in 2021 with the intention playing him at cornerback. At 6-3 and 213 pounds, he had some physical skills that few cornerbacks can match.

As a rookie he was limited to seven games with four starts. He played 242 defensive snaps.

He played 10 games in 2022 with one start and only 98 defensive snaps.

The Lions overhauled the secondary in the offseason. Three free agents were signed – Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Brian Branch, a standout at Alabama with the ability to play safety, cornerback and nickel, was drafted in the second round.

Melifonwu likes the vibe in the defensive back room, with the mix of proven veterans and young players. It's an upbeat mood, with players who aren't afraid to give their opinions.

View photos from Day 2 of Detroit Lions minicamp on Wednesday, June 7, 2023 in Allen Park, Mich.

"It all comes from a good place," Melifonwu said. "We have a lot of older guys in the room. Our meetings, there might be a lot of people giving different perspectives.

"We have a lot of vets and leaders in the room. Everyone listens. I think it helps, honestly."

Melifonwu switched jersey numbers, taking 6 after wearing 26 for his first two seasons.

He wanted 2, but it had already been taken by Gardner-Johnson.

"The next best thing was 6," Melifonwu said. "It's my second favorite single digit."

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