ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Tyrell Crosby stood in the cold of upstate New York in December, staring across from an opponent he had studied all week long. He was a rookie and the Buffalo Bills had an incredibly experienced defensive line.
Crosby knew that. Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson and Kyle Williams have made life difficult for opposing offensive lines for years now. And the rookie from Oregon was now looking at them. He was next. Starting right tackle Rick Wagner was out with a concussion. This was his introduction to starting in the NFL.
And even though the Lions lost, knocking them from playoff contention, Crosby did well. Didn’t allow a sack. It told him something he could only learn by being on the field. Practice is nice. But that game – the only one he started all year – helped more.
“It definitely helps going in and getting actual reps, especially for your confidence knowing you can go out there and compete with an NFL D-Line,” Crosby said. “That was the biggest thing for me, just knowing I can go out there and play a whole game if I need to.”
He didn’t question whether he could do it before. But there is a difference between thinking you can do something and actually seeing yourself do it. Crosby could very well be Detroit’s future at right tackle. But for this season, he had to wait. Wagner was manning the position – and could be again in 2019, depending on decisions the front office makes.
Some of that, though, could be how much the Lions believe in the fifth-round pick they somewhat fell into last year. Injury concerns had Crosby fall in the draft, pushing a player who had once been considered a Day 2 pick into the middle of Day 3.
Unlike others who had fallen in the past, Crosby didn’t use that as motivation, though.
“It doesn’t really bother me because I know how it works and the draft process,” Crosby said. “Going through it, it sucked. But when you actually get that phone call, all that frustration just instantly goes away and you realize all you have to do now is go in there and work.”
So the Las Vegas native showed up in Detroit and worked, even though it was clear from the beginning that he was unlikely to nab a starting role as a rookie unless there was an injury. Drafting Crosby was more about the future for Detroit than the present. He had a role on special teams and was the team’s swing tackle when the Lions used six offensive linemen, but the majority of what he did in his rookie year was practice and learn.
He absorbed so much from starters Wagner and Taylor Decker he couldn’t even name one on-field thing that stood out. Instead, much of it had to do with how he approached things in meeting rooms and at home.
Specifically, how he studied an opponent he would potentially face – either in case of emergency due to a Wagner injury or when he started the one game Wagner was out. He realized he needed to pay attention to the individual more. Learn him as much as possible.
“I study more in-depth. At Oregon I still studied guys, but here this is much more an in-depth look of how he plays and stuff like that,” Crosby said. “It’s an adjustment and it’s a lot of putting more responsibility on yourself, especially if you want to get better.
“You have to learn how to block the guy, really, and what his tendencies are.”
That included on third down, understanding he might pull off a different type of move in a long third-down situation versus short yardage. And that a player’s footwork matters.
All of that figures to improve, too, now that Crosby has both some understanding of what it takes to be a starter and to survive in the NFL. He has the confidence now. For the Lions, that could mean good things when it comes to their future.