Brian Branch might never come off the field for the Lions defense this season

With an different role in store, the Lions may just never take Brian Branch off the field in 2024.
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Brian Branch inexplicably fell to the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2023 draft, for cosmetic reasons that nothing do to with football (smaller size, a slow 40 at the NFL Combine). He proved himself to be a steal by literally being one of the best slot corners in the league last year, leading the team in pass breakups (13) along with 74 total tackles and seven tackles for loss.

There was talk earlier this offseason about giving Branch more snaps at safety this season. Offseason moves to bolster the cornerback depth chart have fully opened the door to that, though it feels foolish to move Branch off a role he was so effective in all that much.

Branch sat out OTAs after offseason surgery, but all indications he will fine for the start of training camp.

On Tuesday, Lions' defensive assistant Jim O'Neil spoke to reporters. With his role coaching the secondary, Branch was a natural topic.

Brian Branch may simply never come off the field this season

With the important note that O'Neil is in his first season on the Lions' staff, here's what he said about Branch.

"Last year they were a little more hesitant with BB (Branch) to just kind of fix him at one spot. Now that he's going into Year 2, I think we'll be more aggressive with him," O'Neil said. "He's the type of player you want to see out there on all three downs, so we're going to push him to that. At the end of the day, he still has to come out in training camp, and he has to take that job."

"I think he can be really good," O'Neil said. "I think he can be one of the better ones (safeties) in the league coming off the rookie campaign he just had and some of the things he did coverage-wise and run-fit-wise and blitzing. I'm excited about him. I'm really excited about him."

After hearing O'Neil and others speak, Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit took a run at predicting the Lions' starting secondary-with an important note that certain personnel packages would shift things. It's a testament to the depth that's now in the Detroit secondary.

O'Neil also noted how defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn prefers his nickel corners to have some safety in their background, and Glenn has noted C.J. Gardner-Johnson as a developmental model for Branch. Gardner-Johnson started his career in New Orleans, with Glenn as his position coach, in a nickel role before later becoming a ball-hawking safety.

It all points to Branch have a more versatile, wide-ranging role in the Lions' defense this year. Health-permitting, and however sarcastically with a hint of truth, he might just never come off the field.