Detroit Lions' Secondary: Turning The Corner, Or Backs Against The Wall?

Blue in GreerCorrespondent IMay 27, 2010

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 30:  Devin Hester #23 of the Chicago Bears gets past Brandon Middleton #10 of the Detroit Lions during a 97 yard kick-off return on September 30, 2007 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Bears 37-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Does another missed tackle by Detroit Lions cornerbacks look all too familiar?

Seen enough?

So did the Lions.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz took out the broom, and have cleaned house at the team's cornerback position this offseason. And the only ones crying about it are opposing NFC North wide receivers, who'd already penciled in a couple of touchdowns against the Lions to put toward their performance bonuses.

OK, sure, there are a handful of returnees, mostly coming off injured reserve, but their total snaps added up to 102 last year with one start. If Eric King doesn't make the cut, the total experience the Lions' cornerbacks will have had is one snap, and Jack Williams was injured and out for the year following a single play last season.

I won't go into the names of those who were "given permission to seek other opportunities,"  which is the business term meaning canned, cut, or released.

If you want to know the names of the players not in Detroit anymore, you will have to go back to the tape of last season's games—you'd just better hope you are getting a wide shot if you want to see Lion DBs anywhere near a receiver.

I will even spare you the pain of last year's numbers. Lions fans saw the same two-bit receivers running free last year that I saw. Which reminds me: Does it bother you more when a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is shredding the secondary, or when Brady Quinn and Jason Campbell have career games?

Maybe it's the guys who we've never heard of before, such as Chicago Bears receiver Devin Aromashodu catching two TDs, that get your goat. For some reason, I don't mind ex-Lions like Micheal Gaines getting a TD pass once in a while.

Anyway, if you want a history lesson on how the Lions defensive backfield got torched last year, check out my first segment, Detroit Lions' Secondary: We Miss You Lem Barney . This stuff has been going on for 32 years now.

For this article, let's just say starting over was a good decision, and safety Louis Delmas looks like the real deal.

Like I've written before, Schwartz is an old hand at cleaning house and starting fresh from his days in Tennessee. If you need to catch up the article was Detroit Lions' Secondary; Who Is Navigating This Ship .

So now that we know our history, and we know something about the guy making the decisions, the question we all want answered is: who are these guys?

Note: Click on the player's name if you want to see his NFLDraftScout pre-draft analysis, and click on "career" to see his stats from ProFootball Reference.

Chris Houston , CB, 5'10", 185 pounds. Fourth year out of Arkansas, second round/No. 41 overall in 2007 draft. career

Combine: 4.32 40, 27 reps

Career: 44 G 37 St, 148 Tackles 18 Assists, 3 INTs 1 FF, 1 TD

Houston was a three-year starter for the Atlanta Falcons, who they traded to Detroit for a sixth-round pick in 2010, plus a conditional pick in 2011, after signing Daunte Robinson in offseason.

A look at his combine numbers makes us believe he has some tools in the box, and maybe the Lions can get something out of him. However, he is coming off a hamstring injury that put him on IR last season.

A check of ProFootballFocus might give fans a clue on why the Lions wanted him. He was ranked 83rd overall, and he allowed 42 receptions on 64 passes thrown in his area, with a passer rating given up of 94.8. Ouch!

However, I believe the reason they like him is he only gave up 98 total yards after the catch. That average of 2.33 YAC per reception was fourth overall last year. This fits in with the Schwartz philosophy in the secondary of keeping everything in front of you and make the tackle.

Chances he starts: 95 percent at this point, but it would be an upset if he doesn't start.

Amari Spivey , CB, 6'0", 190 pounds. Rookie out of Iowa, third round/66th pick overall in 2010 draft.

Combine: 4.52 40

A lot has been made about Spivey's 40 time, but we should remind ourselves that it is right in line with Corey Webster (4.51) and Malcolm Jenkins (also 4.51), who are among the best corners in the NFL.

We also need to realize that his 20- and 10-yard dash times (2.55 and 1.55, respectively) are very good times. Maybe he doesn't have the speed to stay with them deep but he has the speed where it counts most, in those first 10 to 20 yards.

What we do hear is that he is a great tackler, probably the best in the draft among DBs.

Chances he starts: 33 perecent, as he will get plenty of playing time, but probably not start.

Jonathon Wade , CB, 5'10", 195 pounds. Fourth year out of Tennessee, third round/84th pick overall in 2007 draft (St. Louis). career

Combine: 4.36 40, 40 1/2 vertical

Career: 47 G, 6 St, 47 tackles 7 assists, 2 INTs

Though Wade's career totals are uninspiring, his 4.36 40, and 40-inch vertical sure is encouraging. Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan knows Wade well, as he was the St. Louis Rams' head coach when Wade was drafted.

One thing to know, is Wade hasn't played that much cornerback. He was a WR for the first year at Tennessee, and after a redshirt year because of a shoulder injury, he spent the next three years learning on the job at CB.

He also did this without much offseason work until his senior year, because he was on the Volunteers' track team.

The point is, he looked rough around the edges coming out of college, and he hasn't had that much game experience in the pros. It is possible that he is just starting to get a handle on how to play corner.

Another thing to note is he appears to be similar to Houston with his stats last year. While he only faced 18 passes and he gave up 14 receptions his YAC was excellent, in fact he was second in the league with an average of 2.0 YAC per catch.

Chances he starts: 33 percent, and that may seem high to you, but so is his potential. If Schwartz is going to find a diamond in the rough, Wade might be the best bet.

Eric King ,CB, 5'9", 189 pounds. Sixth year out of Wake Forest, fifth round/156th overall pick in 2005 draft (Buffalo). career

Combine: 4.43 40, 12 reps

Career: 56 G, 4 St, 55 tackles 9 assist 0 INTs

Remember him? Played the first four games, even started one, before he went out with a shoulder injury. He was the guy with the three years experience playing for Schwartz in Tennessee.

Lions really seemed to like him in the preseason and it looked like he had the nickle spot locked down. Then the season started.

While I remember him being everywhere, I also remember a lot of bad plays. ProFootball Focus has it five tackles and five missed tackles, ouch. Tackling is not supposed to be a 50/50 thing.

Chances he starts: five percent, as you just never know. Schwartz likes him for some reason. More likely he will be fighting over the nickle spot again.

Dante Wesley , CB, 6'1", 211 pounds. Ninth year out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, fourth  round/100 pick overall in 2002 draft (Carolina). career

Career: 104 G, 2 St, 80 tackles 10 assists, 0 INTs 4 FF

His career line says it all, as he was brought in for special teams. Considering the new special teams coach is from Carolina, we can assume that Wesley is like an assistant coach on the field.

Chances he starts: Well, let's hope not.

Jack Williams , CB, 5'9", 186 pounds. Third year out of Kent State, fourth round/119th pick overall in 2008 draft (Denver). career

Combine: 4.43 40, 19 reps, 35 1/2 vertical

Career: 22 G, 0 St, 32 tackles

The more I look at things the more I wonder if he could surprise a lot of fans. Didn't Schwartz actually mention him in a press conference, something about his injury being a big factor in the struggles of the secondary?

Read that DraftScout analysis, and it sounds like Cortland Finnegan all over. If you don't know who he is, Finnegan is the seventh round pick that made the All-Pro team in his third year under Schwartz.

Another in your face type of defender, who will stick his nose in the running game. ProFootball Focus had him with four stops in 109 snaps last year at Denver. Stops are solo plays that created a negative offensive play and the most stops recorded by a CB last year was Charles Woodsons' 37, but that was on 984 snaps. I will let you do the math, I will just say this guy makes plays.

Chances he starts: 33 percent, as I have him in a dead heat with Spivey and Wade for a starting spot.

The rest of the candidates:

Jahi Word-Daniels , Paul Pratt , Aaron Berry

All very raw, and most likely practice squad players to start the season, unless one of them can beat out the six corners already mentioned or shine on special teams. Eric King seems like the most likely target for one of them to beat out.

So there it is, unless Mayhew makes another move like picking up a veteran cut, these are who we can expect to see at corner this year.

To tell you the truth, I am feeling a little better about this after doing the research. It looks like Mayhew and Schwartz went out and got exactly the kind of players they wanted, tough, and solid tacklers.

Maybe we don't recognize the names and maybe we wanted Daunte Robinson, Rodgers-Cromartie, or even Pac Man. What we should understand is for the most part those players did not fit the mold of the players they did bring in.

The Lions decided to go with young players who fit their scheme, and I sure will not fault them for that decision. Last year, the Lions were scrambling for corners, and I don't believe they found guys with the skills this defense requires.

When your corners are misfits it changes the whole defense. Schwartz wants his CBs in their face and stuffing the run, two qualities we saw little of last year. Personally, I am looking forward to a little change.

Maybe there is a little hope right around the next corner after all.

For those interested in my breakdown of the safeties check out Safety in Numbers or One Man Band. Got a real surprise as my leading candidate to start next to Delmas.


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