Dan Campbell was pleased with a pair of rookie defenders in the Lions' preseason opener, to say nothing of Aidan Hutchinson.
While the second overall pick was the bright spot in a poor showing for the first-team defense, he wasn't at the top of Campbell's mind when the head coach was asked Monday which players caught his eye in the Lions' 27-23 loss to the Falcons.
"The first one that came to my mind was Kerby," Campbell said.
That would be safety Kerby Joseph, a third-round pick who's come along slowly in camp but has a chance to make an impact in a secondary short on playmakers. He aided his cause on Friday with a team-high six tackles.
"Kerby showed up," said Campbell. "Didn’t quite know where he was going to be at or what it was going to look like, and we’ve been on his rear in practice. I mean, we’ve been pretty hard on him and he’s needed it. But he showed up. The lights came on and he did some things on special teams and on defense that are extremely encouraging."
The Lions' starting safeties are Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott, a mid-tier pairing at best. Ifeatu Melifonwu is carving out a role behind them. If he and Joseph can give the group a boost, the backend of Detroit's defense might be better off than it looks.
At another position of concern, at least from the outside looking in, Campbell was impressed with linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez. The sixth-round pick has been climbing the depth chart in camp and continued his rise on Friday. He was the first Lions defender in the box score when he laid the lumber on Falcons return man Avery Williams.
"Rodriguez didn’t disappoint," Campbell said. "He’s got a lot of room for improvement, but you can tell it’s not too big for him, which is good. Those are two guys that really kind of come to mind."
Campbell added that "a number of guys played pretty well" and he did make note of Hutchinson, who "certainly made some plays." That included a tackle for loss on his second snap in the NFL. Campbell also mentioned defensive tackle Alim McNeill who "stepped up and did pretty good."
Asked specifically about cornerback Jeff Okudah, who ran with the starting defense after Will Harris suffered a minor wrist injury, Campbell said the former third overall pick "did some good things" in his first game since tearing his Achilles in last year's season opener.
"We came out of this game encouraged with Jeff, like, ‘OK, this is pretty good,' just to see him get up there and press a little bit, challenge, and then, man, he’s getting involved in some of these tackles. That’s the best way to say it, it was encouraging," said Campbell.