Detroit Lions: Highlighting the Upcoming Best Battle at Training Camp

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2012

ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 12: Head coach Jim Schwartz looks on during a rookie mini camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 12, 2012 in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Lions are, for the most part, pretty settled going into training camp. The majority of the battles we see will be for depth—who is the third linebacker off the bench or how the splits will look for Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best's carries.

As I did with the Packers and Vikings, I will focus on the Lions secondary for the biggest battle. I would have done the same thing with the Bears save for the fact that the offensive line and left tackle look like such a mess right now.

The Lions have a very solid defense up front, save for the occasional lapse of control and general over-aggressiveness. The secondary has taken a ton of heat this offseason—some of it not deserved.

Overall, this was a decent secondary which got blown up a few times—often the only thing we remember about it. As I said in this video, the secondary held up well with a few issues here or there and have a fierce confidence in themselves—critical in that position.

I also mentioned that their success hinges in part on the front seven—and when that seven gets too aggressive, they can be caught off-guard and beaten short or intermediate. Don't get caught up in the "live by the blitz, die by the blitz" soundbite like some of the commentators did—understand that it's about pressure, it's about aggression and it's about being out of position, which happens to the Lions on occasion.

Do they blitz a ton? No, not at all. However the defensive scheme is all about pressure, and a smart offense can take advantage of that, suck them in and beat them.

Which brings you back to needing a good secondary. Having an effective secondary isn't just about not being beat long. The Lions were good avoiding that 99 percent of the time. However, being hurt shorter isn't great either.

There were 376 completions against the Lions in 2011. Nine were over 40 yards (very good). Forty-six were 20 yards and over. Over 300 were under 20. That leaves a lot of short and intermediate routes that didn't get stopped. 

Mind you, that's all in a vacuum, and each pass and situation were different. It does show that sometimes, they get beat on shorter routes.

The bend and don't break philosophy works well when the ball stays out of the end zone. Detroit gave up the 10th-most points in the league, though that's a bit of a misleading stat since 41 points were in that awful Green Bay game. If it had held it to its season average of 21 points, it'd have been out of the 10 worst by two spots.

The Lions also allowed the 11th-most passing first downs in the league. The teams in front of them are a mixed bag—some offensive powerhouses like Green Bay, New Orleans, the Giants and New England as well as some bad offenses like Miami and Oakland.

The Lions—like the Pats, Giants, Saints and Packers—need to improve defensively and take a little pressure off the offense.

Which is a long-winded way to say that this unit can use improvement and brings us back to the cornerbacks.

You have a good player in Chris Houston, but no clear winner to work across from him. Really, Houston is a very good No. 2. You don't need an elite cornerback, but if you lack one, you do need two good ones.

Who will win the job and pair with Houston?


Aaron Berry

Berry would be the early leader for the spot, especially as he is coming off two seasons as the starting nickel cornerback. He needs to stay healthy, as injuries have limited him to just 12 games in his career thus far.

If he can't stay healthy, he won't be on the field and he won't hold onto a job.

The coaching staff is high on Berry, though, and he has flashed ability in his limited starts.

So if he can stay out of the treatment room, he has a good chance to holding this job down for a while.

Well, out of the treatment room and out of trouble. Berry's arrest for DUI is just another in a long line of off-field fiascos for the Lions, but doesn't look like it will cost him a roster spot or earn him a suspension.

Still, it could factor in.


Jacob Lacey

If Berry is healthy and out of trouble, Lacey shouldn't be a huge factor. If anything, he was probably a bench depth pick up—after all, what kind of factor is a guy who, after three years, the Colts didn't think enough of to hold onto?

It's possible that Lacey turns it around for the Lions—after all, we can't be sure the Colts are making great decisions over there in Indianapolis the last few years. He does have some height over Berry and is relatively quick in coverage as well as having far more starting experience.

If nothing else, he will get some play if he's at least halfway decent in camp.

Still, he'll have a hard time unseating Berry—and might get passed by our third contestant. 


Bill Bentley

Dwight "Little Bill" Bentley is a guy who had a great spring and really left his teammates and coaches impressed. The third-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette had a rough practice or two, but overall did very well.

Bentley is a bit raw, but has a lot of potential. While at first, I thought it was a mistake to pass on other corners to take wounded receiver Ryan Broyles, the more I see and read about Bentley, the craftier the whole thing looks.

Bentley is a solid cover-corner—not a game-breaker in the realm of Darrelle Revis or Charles Woodson, but good and quick to react. His size hurt his draft stock, but clearly, given the players on the team, the Lions don't care about that.

What he needs to do is improve his technique and tackling. If he can do that this summer, he's a dark horse candidate for this job.


My Take

Berry is the guy who will come away with most of the snaps to start the season. Lacey will rotate in early on, but he won't win a full-time job.

Watch Bentley, though. By no later than midseason, he will be getting some or all of Lacey's snaps.

Don't be shocked if by the end of the year, he's eaten up a ton of Berry's as well. He's a sharp cat—he'll sharpen his technique pretty quickly once things get going.


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