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Melifonwu taking some reps at safety during OTAs

During the pre-draft process in 2021, teams talked to then Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu about potentially playing some safety in the NFL. Melifonwu has terrific size (6-3, 210) and length to go along with 4.48 speed.

Melifonwu was ultimately drafted by the Detroit Lions in the third round last year as a cornerback. The Lions viewed him as a big cornerback with some versatility to be used as a matchup weapon, playing him in the Dime and different sub packages.

When Melifonwu got to Allen Park for the first day of the offseason training program this year, Lions coaches told him they wanted him to try playing some safety too.

"AG (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) and the coaches just asked me to try it," Melifonwu said after playing both safety and corner during Thursday's open OTA practice. "I'm a football player, so they kind of want to put me at different spots and see what works and get versatility knowing the other positions just in case anything happens."

Melifonwu said it's a much different perspective playing safety and seeing the whole field than it is being on an island as an outside cornerback. He said the biggest difference between the two is that playing cornerback is more physically demanding, while safety is more mentally challenging.

"I take pride in that the coaches can see me and use me as a matchup," Melifonwu said. "Put me where they need me for each week. I take pride in that."

Melifonwu was limited to just seven games as a rookie last year due to a quad injury he suffered Week 2 in Green Bay that landed him on injured reserve. He returned Week 13 in Minnesota, and got his most playing time the final three weeks of the season when he played all but one defensive snap. Teams completed 60.9 percent of their passes throwing his way and he gave up two touchdowns in seven games played and four starts as a rookie.

The Lions have more depth at cornerback right now than there is at safety behind expected starters Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott.

Melifonwu said the biggest value for him learning safety is it required him to learn what all 10 other defenders on the field are doing. At cornerback, it's limited to maybe the safety on his side or the defensive end on his side. He loves how the move to safety has given him greater knowledge of the overall defense.

Veteran Will Harris started his Lions career as a safety and has transitioned to cornerback, so he's one of the few guys that knows what Melifonwu is going through.

"It takes not only new technique, but it starts in here (pointing to his heart)," Harris said. "It starts in your heart and takes a lot of courage to do that. To be able to expose yourself to new situations and a whole new set of responsibilities and be willing to take that task on. Iffy is one of the guys who didn't think twice about it ... and I think he's doing a great job."

It's a good opportunity for Melifonwu to expand his skillset and show coaches just how versatile he can be. His focus heading into his second season is to first stay healthy, but also to sharpen his technique.

"I feel like it was a lot of watching film," he said. "Self-correction. Even going back to training camp one-on-ones, in-season one-on-ones and I had a cutup made of just me with my press reps and coverage reps. It was just a lot of focusing on me and my technique."

Melifonwu has size, length and position versatility, which is something Lions coaches are trying to tap into even more with this move to safety.

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