ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Eli Apple felt as if the Lions were picking on him a bit in Wednesday’s joint practice. It may have been just coincidence that many of their passes were thrown in his direction, but the third-year cornerback still felt it. That he was having trouble stopping many of them only exacerbated the matter.
There was a leaping catch in the end zone by Chris Lacy, who essentially posterized Apple in seven-on-seven drills, and a pass interference penalty against Apple in the two-minute drill that brought the Lions across midfield and close to the range of what would have been a game-winning field goal. It was, by just about any metric, a tough day.
But then, on the snap after the penalty, Apple reversed it all.
He stepped in front of Marvin Jones Jr., picked off the pass from Jake Rudock, and sprinted away with what might have been a pick-six in a real game. In practice it was a drill-ending play, a walk-off interception to cap a day when Apple otherwise might have wanted to crawl off the field.
“That’s the life of a corner,” Apple said. “It’s not always going to go your way. Sometimes they’re going to make plays on you… It’s all about staying even-keeled and making up for it.”
For most of Apple’s career, that’s been the hardest lesson to learn. He’s undoubtedly talented, a first-round pick by the Giants in 2016, and he’s had stretches of very good play. But when things go badly for him, they tend to snowball. Struggles beget struggles, and pretty soon he’s mired in a miserable season. Like, for example, last season.
So this year he’s looking to bounce back. Just as he did in Wednesday’s practice. Only on a larger scale.
“Keep pushing," he said. “That’s all I can do. Just fight and keep fighting. That’s all.”
Pat Shurmur seemed to appreciate Apple’s bounceback in terms of the daily performance.
“When you are competing and you are out there one-on-one, once in a while you are going to give up a play,” Shurmur said. “For him to make a game-changing play like he did in a most critical situation is good.”
Apple said he tries to remember the golden rule of cornerback play, which is to have a short memory. But he also wants to learn from his mistakes and improve on his techniques. The tricky part is replaying the losses while not obsessing over them. That’s why he said he’s enjoying these workouts with the Lions. There are plenty of chances to go against different types of receivers, and they happen in rapid succession.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “Every play is a fight. It’s exactly what I needed. Exactly what we all needed, actually.”
Wednesday’s lesson was an important reinforcement for Apple, that even a disappointing day can become a good one on just one snap of the football.
“No matter what happened on the plays before, you have to go out there with a new mindset and try to win the down,” he said. “Every down.”
Running toward the end zone with the football in his hands was a pretty good way to punctuate that idea.