Detroit Lions' Secondary: Who Is Navigating this Ship?
Is this what our secondary will look like after we hit some rocks named Brady or Favre? We may be in uncharted territory, but our captain has the experience even if the crew doesn't.
If the Lions are in a ship going through treacherous waters, it would be nice to know the captain has been there before.
So maybe a little background on Jim Schwartz's coaching history and how his secondaries have fared in years past would assuage your fears?
While the Titans had two starters leave in free agency that offseason, they had a plan in place. They drafted two safeties the year before and drafted Andre Dyson to play corner in the second round of the 2002 draft.
Unfortunately, when new safety Bobby Myers went down with a career-ending injury in the first game and All-Pro safety Blaine Bishop followed with an essentially career-ending injury a few games later, the Titans suddenly had a very inexperienced secondary.
As you might have expected, the defense and team suffered when the Titans defense fell from second in points allowed in 2000 to 25th in 2001. More importantly, the record went from 13-3 to 7-9.
Not a good start for Schwartz.
For the 2002 season, they dumped the safeties when they brought in free agent Lance Schulters and drafted Tank Johnson in the second round. When they were inserted into the lineup alongside Dyson and veteran Samari Rolle, the defense was back in place and the Titans reached the playoffs the next two years.
When the secondary suffered through a lot of injuries in 2004 and the defense fell to the bottom-third of the league again, the Titans changed both starting cornerbacks for the 2005 season.
The headliner was Adam "Pacman" Jones, who was the Titans' 2005 first-round pick. But when their 2003 first-round pick Andre Woolfolk struggled, they started the rookie, seventh-round pick Reynaldo Hill.
As we might have expected, they struggled with two rookie corners in 2005 as the team went 4-12 mainly because of a bad pass defense.
After adding Chris Hope, a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, for the 2006 season, the secondary still struggled. The Titans then scrapped both cornerbacks and the other safety position for the 2007 season.
This is where the story we have all heard about started.
There has been plenty of articles about how Schwartz took a seventh-round pick with Cortland Finnegan and made him a Pro Bowler.
We should also know that Schwartz took that seventh-round pick and teamed him with mid-level free agent corner Nick Harper and added first-round pick Michael Griffin to play alongside Hope at safety.
This turned the whole defense around. The Titans would return to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, boasting a defense that finished among the NFL's top 10 in both seasons.
That's what we're talking about. Top-10 defenses and playoffs.
But what does that little history lesson tell us?
For one, there were three total makeovers over eight seasons.
That's a lot of changes. These weren't just changes around the edges either.
If he was changing one cornerback, he was changing both. Actually we could identify the eras by the corner tandems.
Rolle and Dyson. Four years from 2001 to 2004. League ranks by yardage given up were 31st, 25th, 30th and 26th. Team record 35-29 with two playoff appearances.
Pacman and Hill. Two years, 2005 and 2006. League ranks? 17th and 27th. Team record 12-20, with no playoffs.
Finnegan and Harper. Two years, 2007 and 2008. League ranks 10th and ninth. Team record 23-9, with playoffs both years.
The players came from everywhere.
From first-round picks to late-round picks, throw in a couple free agents and we have the paths taken to a starting position. In other words, any way possible.
Schwartz wasn't afraid to make changes.
He proved this when he replaced a first-round pick with a seventh-round pick in 2005. You are either getting the job done or you're sitting.
The passing yardage given up by the Titans ranked in the top half of the league for only the last two years of Schwartz's regime. This was counteracted by a run defense that ranked in the top six five times over those eight years.
He likes to use interchangeable and versatile safeties.
The safeties have to be able to cover a receiver and tackle a running back. This means there is a higher premium on safety than corner, where that is a rare combination.
After the ill-fated 2001 season, the Titans combined a free agent signing with a high draft pick at safety. In other words, no scrubs need apply.
Meanwhile, two different seventh round picks have started at cornerback. This is a full 180 degrees from what most teams have done.
One more item I found interesting is that in 2002 Schwartz started five defensive backs 10 times.
I don't recall any other team that has, in essence, made their base defense a 4-2-5. Despite that extra DB, it seemed to help the run defense more as they ranked second in run defense and 10th-overall while the pass defense ranked 25th.
So where does that leave us?
Did we find any reason to hope?
One answer may be that it all starts up front anyways. Schwartz likes to shut down the run and make good tackles in the secondary. They will give up yards through the air but the other team will have to fight for it.
Maybe the only thing we learned was at least Schwartz has been there and done that.
It certainly doesn't guarantee anything, but it is nice to know.
Next up in this series will be a look at the players, who are they and can we at least hope they are any good?
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