Consistency. Accountability. Trust.
Those are the three words Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant used Monday to describe undrafted rookie cornerback AJ Parker, who has taken over a lot of the first-team reps at nickel corner in Detroit's defense the last couple weeks.
"We trust him as a staff to be where he needs to be," Pleasant said of Parker. "Last game, he was able to make some tackles in the open field that I kind of challenged him on from the week prior and the young man is doing a great job."
Parker, who started Saturday's preseason game in Pittsburgh with the other projected starters in the secondary, played 30 reps and led the team with eight tackles, including two tackles for loss and a defended pass.
Pleasant said Parker has the grit, toughness and versatility the Lions are looking to fill their defensive roster with. Parker played outside cornerback, in the slot, at safety, and on all phases on special teams during his time at Kansas State. After going undrafted, he was a player the Lions moved quickly to sign as a free agent after the draft.
Parker has made the most of the opportunity. He not only has a great shot to make the initial 53-man roster next week, but also to start in the slot Week 1 vs. San Francisco. He's been that consistent.
Parker has been one of the great stories for guys that go undrafted or are drafted late. If they show up, put their heads down, listen to the vets, work and improve, there's a role for them.
"I'm pretty confident," Parker said after practice Monday. "It's just all based on the work you put in. I feel like I've done the work. I'm just confident in my abilities and trying to go play my game. I'm just grateful for the opportunity and trying to make the most of it."
NO REPS NEEDED
T.J. Hockenson is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2020. The third-year tight end was dominant to start camp, picking up right where he left off last season, but he has been dealing with an undisclosed injury the last couple weeks and is working his way back.
Hockenson was terrific in the competitive 1-on-1 portion of Monday's practice, dominating his reps against the safeties by catching 5 of 6 passes thrown his way. The only incompletion was a high throw he didn't have a chance at catching.
Hockenson hasn't played in the preseason so far this year and was asked after Monday's practice if he needed any game reps to get ready for Week 1.
"I mean, I didn't have any last year, so I think I'm alright," he said.
NO. 3 TIGHT END
Staying with the tight ends for a moment, Hockenson and Darren Fells are the clear No. 1 and No. 2 at the position, but the battle for the No. 3 role seems to be tightening a bit between Alize Mack and Brock Wright.
"It's very close," tight ends coach Ben Johnson said Monday. "Alize (Mack) probably early on was getting most of those reps as the third tight end, but it's evened out from there, and I think each guy has shown what their strengths are and it's just a matter of us figuring out as we look at the offense what direction we want to go."
It's something to watch closely in Friday's preseason finale.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.
START TO FINISH
Cornerback Jeff Okudah and the other starters in the secondary were the only defensive starters to play Saturday in Pittsburgh.
It wasn't a great start for Okudah, who let wide receiver Dionte Johnson get behind him for a 43-yard gain to help set up a Steelers touchdown on their second possession of the game.
But Pleasant loved the way Okudah responded from there.
"Started a little slow, rebounded really well," Pleasant said of Okudah's overall outing in Pittsburgh. "To me, it's not about how you start, it's about your finish. That's why they're in the preseason and that's why you see our starters out there trying to get better.
"Didn't like the first deep ball, could have been a little bit better in the open field. Shot his gun on the reverse (next possession tackle for no gain), which was great. Then finished great on the third-down stop against JuJu Smith-Schuster, which I thought was phenomenal for his technique and confidence."