(ALLEN PARK)- Not since Bennie Blades and Willie Clay patrolled the deep secondary have the Detroit Lions had a pair of safeties who could really cut off the deep ball.
Unrestricted free agent Brian Walker was supposed to help cure the Lions problems in the middle of their secondary, instead, he became part of the problem. After back-to-back seasons of 88 and 77 tackles (in 13 games) for Miami, Walker had one of the worst seasons of his NFL career, posting just 44 tackles in 10 games for Detroit.
But Walker wasn't the whole problem. Two aging safeties, Corey Harris (79 tackles) and Bracy Walker (36 tackles) played major roles in Detroit's secondary and while both are game-savvy veterans, they've lost a step or three and that hurt Detroit's ability to defend the deep ball.
If the Lions have any more pressing need on the team, it is on the other side of the football. The Lions need a safety, badly. The team could have fixed this at any time since the retirement of veteran Bennie Blades, but instead, has gone through a series of stop gaps like Mark Carrier, Ron Rice, Kurt Schulz and Eric Davis. While Carrier made the Pro Bowl twice in his Lions career, suspensions for "head-hunting" type hits really hurt the team.
It's time for the Lions to face their problems and attempt to solve them. Detroit could still grab a veteran free agent safety like Sammy Knight (107 tackles, 2 FF, 5 INTs), an unrestricted free agent from New Orleans, but if they elect to go the way of the NFL draft, there are four quality players they can choose from.
Mike Doss, the All-American from Ohio State, sports stellar credentials and would be an
immediate upgrade to the Detroit secondary. At 5' 11", 204, Doss doesn't really look
the part of a big-time collegiate strong safety. Bespectacled in horned rimmed glass, Doss
looks more like a lawyer than a football player, but don't let his appearance fool you. He
is a ferocious hitter with ability to move sideline-to-sideline effectively. He is known
as a "high motor" guy who never quits on a play. The down side is that there is
little to no chance he'll be a Lion, he'll likely be gone in the first round. Registered
107 tackles, 2 interceptions and 8 pass defenses during his senior season.
COMPARISON: Lee Flowers, Pittsburgh
Troy Polamalu is the consensus second best safety in the draft. Some say Polamalu, 5'
10", 215-lbs., is the best safety to come out of USC since Ronnie Lott was drafted in
the first round by the San Francisco 49'ers. The Samoan superstar became the first free
safety from USC to be named first team All American since Mark Carrier did it in 1989.
Polamalu has the speed and range to cut off the deep portion of the field, and is a
ballhawk with the ability cover speedy receivers in the deep zone. Also strong in run
support, Polamalu is a complete player, but his production dropped from 2001 when he
recorded 118 tackles, 9 passes defensed and three interceptions to 2002 when he produced
just 68 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 1 interception and two fumble recoveries. Still, if
Willis McGahee is off the board by the Lions second-round pick, Polamalu could be
patrolling the Lions secondary in 2003.
COMPARISON: Darren Sharper, Green Bay
Ken Hamlin is an interesting prospect who has the best chance of becoming a Detroit
Lion. At 6' 2", 205, Hamlin has the prototypical build for a free safety. Known as an
intense, physical player who plays big in run support, Hamlin's only knock is that he
doesn't perform as well in pass protection. However, many scouts feel that is correctable
with good coaching and if he is put into a scheme that will play to his strengths. Even at
205, he has the ability to run with receivers in deep coverage. With 118 tackles, 10
passes defensed and three interceptions, Hamlin holds his own in pass coverage. The rub is
that he's had some trouble with the law, being arrested and charged with drunken driving
twice in a 14-month span. Still, the NFL is a player's league and if you can play, teams
are interested. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says Hamlin's arrest "changed him."
COMPARISON: Rodney Harrison, New England
Anthony Floyd of Louisville is another player who is likely to be available when the
Lions make their third round selection. The 5' 10", 201-lbs senior collected 97
tackles, 6 passes defensed, 4 interceptions and one forced fumble in his final campaign as
a Cardinal. Not great in run support, but an excellent ballhawk who can run down speedy
receivers in deep routes. Although he's undersized for an NFL safety, there is no
questioning his ability to cover in the deep zones.
COMPARISON: Dexter Jackson, Arizona
Pick: Detroit will probably take a safety in the third round (66 overall) or later of the draft. If they are fortunate, Hamlin's reputation will cause enough teams to shy away from him that he'll be available to them at the top of round three. If not, Floyd, a real ballhawk, could team with Walker and help Detroit solidify their deep secondary.