Lions Secondary Problem A Primary Concern

Detroit's offense has received the recognition, and a revamped defensive line has put people on notice. Behind them, however, lies the achilles heel of the Lions' fate in 2010, and it isn't pretty ...

Someone cue Donald Rumsfeld, because the Lions have some "known knowns" entering the 2010 regular season. Among them? That the offense, led by second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford, will undoubtedly be productive.

Detroit's defense just isn't in the conversation.

After the Lions dumped veterans Dante Wesley, Dre' Bly, and Eric King over the weekend, three cornerbacks that were projected by many to see significant playing time this year, and will rely upon recently acquired Alphonso Smith (Denver) to help buoy an already questionable secondary. Smith spent his rookie campaign in Denver last year irritating the Broncos' coaching staff with his inconsistent and erratic play.

Denver thought enough of the second-round pick to deal him for Dan Gronkowski, a little used tight end that barely made Detroit's final roster.

Still, the Lions see hope in their new prospect. Which says more about who they dumped than the indivdual they picked up.

"I like a lot of things about him – he's got a nose for the ball," said Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Monday. "I think one thing is when you look at DBs, interceptions are a little bit like sacks on the defensive line. You either have it or you don't. He has the ability to find the ball in the air."

But Smith's exploits were at the collegiate level. Last season, it simply didn't translate. He saw action in 15 games, never started, and tallied 15 tackles -- and no interceptions.

Schwartz did mention that Smith had a "great personality", however. But even the Tim Tebow of cornerbacks can't absolve the Lions of what should be a giant, blinking, expletive-laden warning size that is the defensive backfield.

Opposing quarterbacks will just see a green light.

The recent moves should put the spotlight directly on the Detroit secondary, which also seems to be serving as a rehab center for struggling, out-of-work defensive backs. Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade, the team's starters, are also first-year reclamation projects. The team has a giant void beside unquestioned leader, yet youthful Louis Delmas, and the exhibition contests yielded little more than confirmation that the group will be a team weakness.

Most have expected that the team will have to outgun their opponents, because any play that doesn't result in a sack might end up a touchdown. Thankfully, Detroit has the offense that might be able to pull it off.

Schwartz seemed to be approaching the situation with a cautious level of optimism -- if not trying to remain completely, and unequivocally, politically correct.

"We have guys that are in some roles that they need to go play well for us," he said. "I don't know if I have the same level of concern as you, or a lot of other people. We need to play the games and we need to perform on the field.

"Talent-wise, I think you could go position by position back there and you could say, okay we're upgraded from last year, we're upgraded from last year at that position. The question is, how much of an upgrade and where that takes us because, it didn't take a whole lot to upgrade where we were defensively last year."

Granted, Detroit's rebuilding process can't encompass every shortcoming on a team that defined the word during the past decade. It will take time. But while there's a growing level of enthusiasm about these Motor City Cats (and, for the most part, understandably so), it should be somewhat tempered.

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