By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Towering at the podium and still sporting his college gear Sunday afternoon, offensive lineman Cornelius Lucas waited for the microphone to be raised – at 6 feet 8 inches tall, he still had to lean in to get close – before he explained his decision to pick the Detroit Lions from among the six or seven teams that offered him free agent deals.
“They just showed the most interest in me,” Lucas said. “As soon as the fourth round started, the assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson, he started contacting me, ‘Just stay in there, we’re very interested in you, we’ll keep in contact with you.’ They were one of a few teams that did that, but they showed the most interest.”
Lucas declined to name the other teams that offered him.
“That was a long time ago,” he said with a smile. “I’m a Lion now.”
It does not sit well with Lucas that the Lions – and every other NFL team – passed up the chance to draft him. Lucas said the slight did not produce merely a chip on his shoulder. As he puts it, the chip is more like a boulder.
“That’s something that I think about every morning, every night, so that’s just going to fuel me for next season,” Lucas said. “That was an understatement, being disappointed. You work for something so long and it doesn’t go through how you want it to, but at the end of the day, I still had a great opportunity in front of me.”
Lucas could not do much at the three-day rookie minicamp because he is still recovering from foot surgery to repair a stress fracture, the result of an injury Lucas sustained in a workout two weeks before the NFL combine. Nevertheless, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has high hopes for Lucas, who started at left tackle at Kansas State.
“We know what he’s capable of doing,” Caldwell said. “We know that, obviously, he’s got a great upside because of his length and size. He’s a smart guy, he’s a willing worker and he’s really one of those guys that over the years you’re going to see some development and positive development.”
Lions tight end Joe Fauria went undrafted in 2013 and proceeded to become a fan favorite thanks to an unusual amount of touchdown catches and crazy celebrations. Detroit right tackle LaAdrian Waddle was another undrafted free agent who flourished in his first season, replacing the injured Corey Hilliard as the starter for the Lions down the stretch.
“I actually watched him on film in college and stuff like that, and once I got here, I heard about his story over and over again,” Lucas said. “I would love to have the same story, possibly even do it better.”
Assuming he can get healthy, Lucas should have a decent shot to make the 53-man roster. Riley Reiff is expected to be a lock in the left tackle spot, but the backup role is up in the air with Lucas and J.B. Shugarts among the contenders for that spot. Lucas said he can also play right tackle, but the two-deep for that spot looks fairly solid between Hilliard and Waddle.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has said Lucas was one of the first players the team targeted after the draft. Lucas said he accepted Detroit’s offer about 15 minutes after the draft concluded.