Just two days after successfully converting an onside kick and two fake punts against the Rams last Sunday, the Detroit Lions got some bad news concerning the orchestrator of those plays, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp.
Fipp tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday of this week and has been away from the facility since. His availability for Sunday's game against Philadelphia at Ford Field is now in question.
Fipp has continued to coach remotely the past two days and is taking part in meetings via Zoom, but he must produce negative tests on back-to-back days to be eligible to coach Sunday. He said he tested positive again Thursday morning.
"I feel terrible because I feel great, to be honest with you," Fipp said Thursday via Zoom. "I know this disease ... devastating to some people. I think that's probably the hardest thing with the whole thing is that everybody has such a different experience with it.
"For me, I feel as good as I've ever felt, whatever, seven weeks into a season with the record the way we have it. But yeah, fortunately for me I feel great. I feel totally healthy. I've got no symptoms."
If Fipp can't produce two negative tests before Sunday, assistant specials teams coordinator Jett Modkins and head coach Dan Campbell will handle his duties.
Fipp, who is vaccinated, said he doesn't know how he contracted the virus. His wife and three kids are healthy and the Lions haven't reported any other COVID-19 cases.
"It's frustrating because you feel healthy but somebody's telling you you're testing positive still," Fipp said. "All you want to do is be in the building and coach and go to work. So anyway, it is what it is."
The Lions may be 0-7 on the year, but Fipp and the special teams units have been a real bright spot. The Lions are 10-for-11 kicking field goals, punter Jack Fox is top three in the league in both average and net punting, Detroit's got strong cover units, and they rank in the top 12 in the league in punt returns. That's not including the two fakes punts and onside kick recovered last week.
"I think Fipp is a superstar," Campbell said this week. "I've known Fipp for a while. We coached briefly – actually, he was the assistant special teams coach when I was in Miami. I remember even thinking then like, 'Man, this guy, just full of energy.'
"I think it's probably been our most consistent unit out of the three phases. We've got a pretty good core group of guys, but he's been great. I just think he's an outstanding teacher and he's high energy and I think you have to be both to be a good special teams coach."
Fipp said in 24 years coaching football he's missed one practice for the birth of his son. Missing Wednesday's practice was tough.
"I think as a coach you want to be in the building and you want to be around the players and you want to be a part of the game," Fipp said. "That's why we do it. So regardless Philly or anybody else, hopefully I'll end up getting back for it, but if not I know the players and the coaches will do a great job."
Lions general manager Brad Holmes took in Oregon's game at UCLA Sunday while in town for Detroit's Sunday matchup with the Rams.
The Lions are the only winless team in the league after seven weeks and currently hold the No. 1 spot in next year's draft, though a lot could change on that front over the next 10 weeks.
Still, Holmes was doing his due diligence by taking a closer look at Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, who some draft experts view as the top prospect in next year's NFL Draft.
Holmes has a pretty good resource of his own to tap into in rookie tackle Penei Sewell if he wants more info on Thibodeaux. Sewell and Thibodeaux had some good battles over the years at Oregon practice.
"Every day," Sewell said of matching up with Thibodeaux in practice. "He's very athletic, so he gave me a run for my money come practice days. It was a battle."
Sewell said Thibodeaux has it all as a pass rusher, though his advice to him coming into the NFL would be to hone his technique, much like Sewell's had to do. If Thibodeaux does that, Sewell thinks he can be a great player in this league.
Outside linebacker Julian Okwara played 35 snaps on defense last week against the Rams, the most he's played all year. He rewarded the Lions by producing a sack in his second straight game. He also had a tackle for loss, quarterback hit and a defended pass. Okwara's becoming a regular playmaker the more snaps he's seeing. He played 33 snaps the week prior, and had a sack, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
"I think that during camp Brad (Holmes) and coach Campbell and those guys just hammering on me to go hard in everything I do ... taking from practice and taking it to the games has been paying off and I just credit coach for putting me in the positions to make those and trusting me that I'm going to make them," Okwara said Thursday of his increased production with increased reps.
"I still have some work to do to clean up some stuff where I finish a little better, and stuff like that, but I just think coaches are putting me in the best positions to succeed."
UPDATE ON PARKER
Cornerback A.J. Parker has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Lions' defense this season. The undrafted rookie out of Kansas Start earned the starting job out of camp, and he's allowed two touchdowns in his coverage area in seven games and is giving up on average 30.1 receiving yards per game.
Last week's game against the Rams is a great example of what Parker means to the defense. After he left the game with an injury in the third quarter, the Rams and quarterback Matthew Stafford went after Parker's replacement, Daryl Worley, and connected on a 59-yard completion at the end of the third quarter that led to a five-yard go-ahead touchdown, also with Worley in coverage.
Campbell was asked about Parker on Monday, and said he would be out a bit. Campbell backtracked a bit Wednesday as Parker seems to be doing better.
"I would say A.J. is better than we thought he was when I talked to you guys last," Campbell said.
Parker (neck) didn't practice Thursday, but the door still seems open for him to potentially play Sunday. Campbell considers him day-to-day at this point.