Detroit Lions' Secondary; Safety in Numbers or One Man Band?

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Detroit Lions' Secondary; Safety in Numbers or One Man Band?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Well the Lions have one safety, and pretty darn good one, too.

Louis Delmas had maybe the best rookie season a Detroit Lions defensive player has had since the rookie duo of Bennie Blades and Chris Speilman in 1988.

I know, set the bar low enough and anybody can get over it. But that's not what happened here.

Yes, because of a lack of competition, he had a starting spot sewn up on the day he was drafted. But it was the way he embraced it that has everybody so excited.

From the first day of training camp when he challenged Stafford, to his entrance at the last game of the season, Louis Delmas breathed some life into the defense that has been missing since Blades and Spielman left.

Now for the rest of the story.

Just a year ago, many of us thought the safety position for the Lions was set. Some of us were even questioning drafting a Safety in the second round.

Bullocks and Alexander were coming back from injury and even the guy we got for Kitna, Anthony Henry, was really a safety, so why not get a corner and move him there? With no MLB and that DL, it sure seemed like there were more pressing needs for the defense.

Of course Bullocks never played, Alexander was shipped off to Jacksonville, Henry showed us why the Cowboys were glad to get rid of him, and nobody complains about the Delmas pick anymore.

We should have seen it coming when they signed Marquand Manuel; training camp fodder, we said. When they traded Alexander, we thought it proved that the safety position was well-stocked.

What we should have been doing was listening to Jim Schwartz when he said he wanted four corners across the back. In one ear and out the other with Lions fans. Of course he wants four guys who can cover, but we know safeties are there to hit people.

What we didn't understand was how committed Schwartz is to safeties who can cover. He was that way in Tennessee, and he was that way in Detroit last year. In fact, we need to think of a Schwartz secondary as being totally flipped from tradition; he likes his corners to tackle and his safeties to cover.

But more on that in another article. It seems like every article I write leads to the need for two more.

But I digress. You guys want to know who is going to start next to Delmas, but I won't give you a definitive answer. Actually, I should tell you that Schwartz often played three safeties at a time in Tennessee, so I guess I just made matters worse.

Oh well, onto the roll call.

(If you click on the players' names, you will get the NFLDraftScout pre-draft analysis courtesy of CBSSports, and if you click on career, you will get their career stats from ProFootball Reference)

 

Louis Delmas: S, 6', 202lbs, second year out of Western Michigan. Second round/No. 34, 2009 draft

combine: 4.52 40, 12 reps, 37 vertical

career15 G, 15 St, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 2 TDs, 63 tackles 29 assists, and a safety.

Now that is the way you start a career. It's hard to pick the highlight of the season. Actually I think I will let you guys pick. That is a better poll question then who starts next to him, anyways.

I don't want to get into a Delmas lovefest, so why don't we look at what kind of player he is. That should give us some clues as to what Schwartz will be looking for in his other safeties.

A look at the combine numbers says he is not as fast or as big as some of the safeties out there. The scouting report even talked about his lack of strength and that he struggled some in deep coverage.

What they did rave about was his cover skills and play-making ability. They really nailed that scouting report; well, everything but the bad teeth.

Chances he starts: Pleeeease.

 

Daniel Bullock: S, 6'1", 212lbs, fourth year out of Nebraska. Second round/No. 40, 2006 draft

combine: 4.41 40, 18 reps, 38 vertical

career: 31 G, 22 St, 0 INTs, 3FF, 118 tackles 50 assists, 1TD

Oops, missed the most important stat—two seasons on IR. What we really need is a link to his medical records.

The scouting report raves about him and compares him to Brian Dawkins. That is a good thing, a very good thing.

Now read a little deeper: a great hitter, physical, excellent speed, best in deep coverage, tight in the hips, but struggles in change of direction. In other words, the opposite of Delmas.

On one hand, he seems like a perfect compliment to Delmas, but Schwartz says he likes his safeties to be interchangeable. Even if Bullock is healthy this year, we have to wonder if he fits this defense.

Chances he starts: man, I don't know. Too many questions. Maybe the better question is, if he is healthy will they trade him?

 

Marquand Manuel: S, 6'1", 209lbs, ninth year out of Florida. Sixth round/No. 181, 2002 draft by Cincinnati

combine: 4.52 40, 18 reps

career: 116 G, 57 St, 2 INT, 4 FF, 283 tackles 83 assists

Started six games last year and played in nine before injuries finally ended his season.

I will admit, I am pulling for this guy, mostly because of his daughter. There is a great video of the story here.

But what kind of player is he?

Basically he is a solid, all-around, tough player. Looking at his stats on ProFootballFocus, there are a couple of things that define him.

For one, he is a reliable tackler with three missed tackles on 34 attempts. That may not seem great, but that percentage of 8.82 is lower than the 11.92 percent league average for safeties, better than Ed Reed at 10 percent, and than Brian Dawkins at 11.1 percent.

Manuel makes plays, his stops-per-snaps percentage of 3.4 is above the 2.1 percent league average for safeties, and was the highest on the Lions last year.

Chances he starts: probably not, though he could be a very reliable back-up.

 

Ko Simpson: S, 6'1", 209lbs, fifth year out of South Carolina. Fourth round/No. 105, 2005 draft by Buffalo

combine: 4.45 40, 11 reps, 40 1/2 vertical

career: 41 G, 32 St. 3 INT, 1 FF, 127 tackles 45 assists

The guy for whom they traded a seventh round pick, finally worked his way into the lineup before a knee injury cut his season short. That was the second time he ended the season on IR in four years.

Looking at the pre-draft analysis, we can see some things similar to Delmas: needs to roam and cover ability.

He is above average in stops and missed tackles, unfortunately, and has a decent passer rating against of 86.2.

Chances he starts: word is, they hope he will be ready sometime early in the season. Will he help when he is healthy? Stay tuned, they did trade for him, so we have to assume he fits what they want.

 

Marvin White: S, 6'1", 199lbs, fourth year out of TCU. Fourth round/No. 114, 2007 draft by Cincinnati

combine: 4.54 40, 17 reps, 33 1/2 vertical

career: 40 G, 19 St, 1 INT, 133 tackles 44 assists

White is an interesting player; he has the skills the Lions covet, but is very inconsistent. He had way too many missed tackles last year and it sure seemed like he blew a lot of coverages.

He is an extremely hard worker who plays full out.

Chances he starts: next to none. He probably has to shine on special teams to make the team.

 

C. C. Brown: S, 6'2", 210lbs, sixth year out of La-Lafayette. Sixth round/No. 188, 2005 draft by Houston

not invited to combine

career: 66 G, 54 St, 3 INT, 7 FF, 246 tackles 69 assists

Brown is the free agent they just signed that everybody says the Giants were glad to be rid of. Nothing but training camp fodder, right?

Don't bet on it.

Yes, that passer rating against of 142.6 last year was awful but that rate of missed tackles of 7.55 percent is excellent and the YAC average per reception of 3.65 is pretty good. This seems to fit right in with what the Lions want—guys who are consistent tacklers.

Chances he starts: not impossible. He may be fighting Manuel for a roster position.

So who is the most likely starter?

Get ready for a big surprise.

 

Jonathon Hefney: S, 5'8", 190lbs, from Tennessee in 2008. Undrafted

combine: 4.59 40, 14 reps, 29 vertical

career: zip

So why do I believe he is the starter?

Not just because he was Rookie of the Year last year in the CFL.

Not just because he is taking the first string snaps in the OTAs.

Mostly because every time they ask Schwartz about him, he talks about how he wants four corners across the back.

Read that scouting report closely: great hips, closes quickly, plays great in space, and has very good balance in the back pedal. It goes on and on; this guy has the skills to cover and the range the Lions need.

The negatives?

He doesn't have the size, he's not a big hitter, and doesn't work well in traffic. Guess what, the Lions don't care. Look for him to play deep with that great range while Delmas cleans up the stuff getting past the line of scrimmage.

Maybe he doesn't start, maybe they want someone for the running game on early downs. Whatever, he will get plenty of playing time.

So there you have it. One star, a lot of candidates to play with him, a lot of injured players, and one player out of nowhere walks away with it.

We know the Lions must get better production out of the safeties. Even Delmas has a lot to improve on, like a 16.25 percent missed tackles that undoubtedly contributed to his 11.1 YAC per reception average.

We can chalk that up to being a rookie and it is likely he will improve, but it doesn't always work that way.

 

This is the fourth of probably six Bleacher Report articles about the Lions secondary. Click on the title to read the others:

We Miss You Lem Barney - I discuss the last 32 years of Lions secondary woes.

Who Is Navigating This Ship - The history of Titans' secondary while Jim Schwartz was defensive coordinator.

Turning the Corner or Backs Against the Wall - A breakdown of the cornerback candidates for the Lions.

Still to come:

Discussion about how the upgrades at DL and LB will affect the secondary.

Summing it all up.

 

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