The Detroit Lions need a few key things to happen during training camp, but there might not be anything more critical than the emergence of Jacob Lacey as a starting-caliber cornerback. Cornerback Chris Houston will start on one side, but there is a gaping hole that needs to be filled on the other side.
The Lions expected cornerback Aaron Berry to solidify his hold on this job during training camp, but he has had a disastrous offseason. According to Tom Leyden of wxyt.com, Berry was arrested on June 23 for DUI, and several other charges. Kevin Seifert of espn.com reported that Berry was arrested again on July 21. This time he was arrested for allegedly brandishing a weapon.
According to Tim Twentyman of detroitlions.com, Berry was released on July 23, due to "personal conduct which adversely affects the club."
The Lions added some talent during the 2012 NFL draft with the selections of Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green. The three cornerbacks that are elite athletically, but they are raw, and they need to be developed. These players can’t realistically be counted on to start at cornerback in 2012, but a player like Bill Bentley could help in nickel packages at some point in 2012.
There is a lot of talent on the Lions roster, but the cornerback position is extremely young. The only players that have any NFL experience are Lacey and Alphonso Smith. We have witnessed Smith make plays for the Lions. We have also watched him get torched, and his propensity to gamble is something that will limit him in this defense.
The best candidate to win this job is Lacey, a player the Lions signed in the 2012 free agency period. The Indianapolis Colts signed Lacey as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Lacey put up solid numbers during his time with the Colts. He played in 15 games in 2011, starting 10 of them. Lacey recorded 24 tackles and one interception in 2011.
Anwar Richardson of mlive.com reported that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew thinks highly of Lacey, and had this to say about him:
"I just like the way the guy plays. He's very physical; a really good zone defender; has been a starter; has started in big games; has made plays in big situations. We think he has a chance to come in and compete to start for us."
Richardson also talked to Lions head coach Jim Schwartz about the addition of Lacey. Schwartz said:
“I think Lacey was under the radar as a signee. He's done some really good things in his pro career. We see a good fit. We're excited to work with him, in addition to bringing those other guys back."
Most consider the Lions’ pass defense awful, but this is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of their secondary unit. The Lions were decent against the pass in 2011, until injuries hit them in a big way. The Lions got exposed when Houston and safety Louis Delmas were injured, or played hurt.
Entering Week 12 of the 2011 season, the Lions ranked fifth in the NFL, allowing 193 yards per game. They also ranked third in the NFL, allowing only 10 touchdown passes through 10 games. These are great numbers, especially for an aspect of the defense where most think the Lions are failing.
It is easy to link the quality of the play of the secondary to the intensity of the pass rush. The pass rush is the key, and when the defensive line gets pressure on the quarterback, the Lions secondary has played well. The Lions were extremely solid against the pass in 2011, until they had to go to their depth players.
The biggest factor that led to the collapse of the pass defense was injuries, as the Lions did not have much NFL quality talent on the roster after their starting group. When injuries took their toll, the pass defense eroded, and it got torched. This is the secondary that everyone remembers coming away from the 2011 season.
The reality is that the Lions have to prove that their secondary can play well on the field. They were good in 2011 when they had a healthy group of starters. They fell apart when the injuries hit.
The Lions are in a similar place entering the 2012 season, as they have talent, but they are also extremely young. The Lions can’t afford to go to their young players at such a vital position like cornerback, and it is critical that Lacey plays well in camp and that he wins the position as starting cornerback.