As most rookies can attest to, the speed of the NFL game takes a little getting used to early in their careers.
For defensive backs, the adjustment is even bigger matching up against some of the best athletes in the world at receiver, tight end and running back. For defensive backs from a smaller college, like Louisiana-Lafayette, it’s even bigger yet.
That was certainly the case for third-round pick Tracy Walker when he first got to Detroit, but the rookie safety is starting to come into his own, and is earning more opportunities in Detroit’s defense.
“I definitely feel as confident as I have all year,” Walker said last week, heading into the Arizona game. “I feel like I’m definitely earning the coaches' trust and right now I’m just trying to continue to develop myself on and off the field.”
Walker played a career-high 43 snaps (61 percent) in Sunday’s 17-3 Lions win over the Cardinals. He made a couple tackles and played pretty well in coverage. Arizona quarterback Josh Rosen completed just two of the four passes he threw at Walker for 18 yards.
“I think Tracy’s a good, young player,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Monday. “He’s trying to learn NFL football and I think he’s someone that has developed, through the course of the season, his overall study habits and knowledge of the game and preparation.
“(He’s) just trying to slow the game down as much as he can. I think it was pretty fast-moving for him when he first got here but I think he’s done a really good job of trying to go out and compete.”
Walker's frame (6-1, 206) is perfect for the safety position. In fact, Lions veteran safety Glover Quin joked earlier this season that if he had Walker’s length and reach he would have went to a few more Pro Bowls throughout his career.
Detroit’s defensive coaches love Walker’s study habits and the way he prepares. They are trusting him to be involved in more and more packages. The rookie hasn’t disappointed with the added workload. It’s a good sign for the rest of this season, but also heading into next season, when Walker will try to earn a permanent role on defense.
“I’m getting better,” he said. “Obviously the coaches are seeing that and acknowledging that and they feel like I can develop a bigger role on this team, so at this point, I’m just trying to show them what I can do.”
ANSAH’S COMPLICATED TENURE
The Lions placed defensive end Ziggy Ansah on injured reserve (shoulder) Tuesday ending the pass rusher's 2018 season. Depending on Detroit’s offseason plans, the move could potentially end his time in Detroit. Ansah, who played under the franchise tag this season, is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Looking back at Ansah’s last six years in Detroit makes us kind of wonder, what if?
What if the injuries hadn’t been as prevalent as the sacks? There were plenty of both, which makes for a complicated look at Ansah’s first six seasons in the NFL.
When healthy, he is as good a pass rusher as there is in the league. He’s accumulated 48.0 sacks, highlighted by his Pro Bowl season in 2015 when he led the NFC with 14.5 of them.
But only twice in six seasons has Ansah played in all 16 games. He will end up missing 16 games total due to injury, which equates to a full season.
Ansah has gutted through injuries to play in games, and deserves credit for that as well, but it’s just too bad the former No. 5 overall pick hasn’t been able to stay healthier and available more often.
“Ziggy has been great for me,” Patricia said Wednesday, when asked about Ansah’s future with the club. “This year we worked really well together. It’s unfortunate, but injuries happen as far as that’s concerned. Right now our focus is just trying to get on to the Bills and get ready to go and make sure we’re doing everything we can to win this weekend. It’s really just short-term picture.”
The NFL announced the home teams for next season’s International Series. Four games will be played in London and one in Mexico City. The five hosting teams are Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Oakland, the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Of those five teams, the Lions are slated to play Oakland on the road in 2019. That doesn’t mean the game will be in London or Mexico City, but there is that potential. The five opponents for these games will be named next spring.
The Lions last played internationally in London in 2015.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Patricia worked together on the coaching staff in New England from 2004-06 and then again from 2013-16.
It was Daboll who was in charge of finding the next young coach to go to New England. He connected all the dots to get Patricia, who was a grad assistant at Syracuse at the time.
It will be Daboll’s offense vs. Patricia’s defense Sunday in Buffalo.
“When you know people as well as we both know each other, and the different backgrounds we have, we just have to be alert for a lot of different things that can come up during the game,” Patricia said.
ROBERTS’ SEASON ENDS IN DISAPPOINTMENT
Joining Ansah on IR Tuesday was second-year tight end Michael Roberts, also with a shoulder injury.
After catching just four passes as a rookie playing behind Eric Ebron, Roberts had an opportunity to step up this season when the team moved on from Ebron in the offseason. It just never materialized that way for the team’s fourth-round pick in 2017.
He missed time earlier this season with a shoulder injury and finished the year with just nine catches in eight games for an even 100 yards and three touchdowns.
With fellow tight ends Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo scheduled to be free agents this offseason, and the fact that Detroit hasn’t received enough production from the position throughout the year, there’s likely to be some shakeup at the position this offseason.
Can Roberts put it together in year three and be part of the mix?