The Detroit Lions took the field on Friday. Finally.
Not in recent memory has a Lions squad generated such a buzz – both locally and nationally. For once, eyes are on the Lions. Their potential has persuaded typically avoiding eyes to glance. It is now that the real work begins as the Lions try to prove that they are more than just high-draft picks and potential.
Still, the team faces many questions as they attempt to make the transition from up-and-coming to arrived-and-contending.
Let's take a look at one of Detroit's biggest areas of concern – cornerback.
Since the end of the offseason, the media and fans were quick to question Detroit's back-seven, particularly the cornerbacks. Nnamdi Asomugha was on top of the free-agent rankings as well as fan wish lists. With Asomugha signing a monster deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, that pipe dream goes down the drain. However, Asomugha's daunting price tag was not the only reason the Lions' interest was moderate at best; they have talent at cornerback.
Nathan Vasher is an often-forgotten name when mentioning the Lions' secondary. Vasher is an experienced cornerback who enjoyed success early in his career, playing for the Chicago Bears. Vasher led the NFC in interceptions (8) in 2005 (his sophomore season) and was a starting cornerback in 2006, when the Bears made it to the Super Bowl (starting all three playoff games, including Super Bowl 41). Vasher struggled with a groin injury in 2007 and wasn't able to find his stride the next few seasons. Now, playing behind one of the league's most feared defensive lines, Vasher enters the season attempting to regain his early-career form. Word is, he looked solid in the team's first day of training camp, drawing the intimidating task of cover Calvin Johnson on numerous occasions.
Aaron Barry joined the Lions in 2010 as an undrafted free agent with little expectations. He impressed in training camp and earned the starting nickel cornerback job during the Lions' Week one contest against the Chicago Bears. In that game, Barry recorded three tackles and an interception before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Finally healthy, Barry trained with Jets' cornerback Darelle Revis during the offseason and reportedly looked good in today's practice as tweeted by reporter Chris McCosky (@cmccosky): "CB Aaron Berry also stood out. He's fast and smooth, changes directions fluidly. Looks bigger, too. Started at nickel last yr before injury."
Said coach Jim Schwartz, "I thought Aaron Berry looked outstanding today; very, very quick and he's a lot stronger than he was last year. He fell into that undrafted category last year where he didn't know what to expect; he never really lifted before; he was skinny, he was quick and he could make a play but it was a lot different today."
Alphonso Smith is one of the most exciting prospects at the position. Smith is entering training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a broken foot, but he offers intrigue due to high-end potential. Originally the 37th-overall selection of the Denver Broncos in 2009, the Wake Forest alum was traded to the Lions after only one season with the Broncos. Appearing in 12 games for the Lions (10 starts) Smith led the team with five interceptions – returning one for a touchdown. He also got burned while gambling at times and needs to learn to play within the defensive system.
Still, Smith is only entering his third professional season and could develop into a strong player in Detroit's secondary.
The Lions also added former Brown Eric Wright via free agency. Drafted by Cleveland in 2007 at 53rd overall, Wright has started 55 games in his NFL career and brings high-end skill to Detroit's secondary. Wright figures to win one of the starting jobs. With the signing not officially announced (perhaps pending a physical) Wright is expected to arrive to camp on Monday.
Also, don't forget that Detroit may yet retain the services of Chris Houston, their No. 1 cornerback from a year ago. Houston is a reliable veteran who currently is a free agent. If Houston returns, the Lions have a solid mix of experience and youth at cornerback.
The Lions secondary isn't bursting with high-priced Pro-Bowlers but they quietly have assembled a group that has more potential than they are credited for. If the front four has the success that is expected of them, the secondary has the skill, experience and potential to succeed.