Finally, Lions Have Strength at Corner

After several years of unproductive play, the cornerback position is a strength of the Detroit Lions. Along with Pro Bowler Dre' Bly, the Lions' defensive backfield will give opposing quarterbacks few options in 2004.

One weakness that has haunted the Detroit Lions for the last several years has been the lack of competence at cornerback.

Not since 1993, when the Lions lined up veterans Ray Crockett and Melvin Jenkins, assisted by Ryan McNeil, did the ball club have any security in the defensive backfield.

Efforts to revitalize the group have ended in dismal failure.

In 1997, Detroit drafted Texas cornerback Bryant Westbrook 5th overall and Syracuse DB Kevin Abrams in the second round. Both players are currently out of the league. The following year, Terry Fair was selected with the Lions first round pick to compliment Westbrook, but didn't last long and is currently hanging on for dear life with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2003, the presence of Pro Bowler Dre' Bly help solidify at least one side of the field, but the ball club rotated geriatric's Otis Smith and Doug Evans. Both have since retired.

But in 2004, after the signing of penciled in starter Fernando Bryant, along with the renewed health of third-year cornerbacks Chris Cash and Andre' Goodman (who sat out last year with injuries), Detroit possesses strong talent and great depth at one of the more vital positions in football.

"We've got a lot of guys competing," said head coach Steve Mariucci. "We may end up considering keeping one more corner than we did a year ago simply because of the number of capable guys that are competing for spots."

A cast of 3rd round pick Keith Smith, last year's free-agent acquisition Roderick Babers, rookie Kenny Heatly, and second-year player Chris Kern join Cash, Goodman, Bryant and Bly.

Each has been impressive in camp, including Cash and Goodman. Both sat out most of last season, including Cash who is still recovering from a knee injury.

"We've got to get Chris (Cash) healthier," said Mariucci. "Chris Cash has been in there, but not double-days and not every day double-days. We've limited him a little bit. Dré and Fernando Bryant have been doing a good job when they are available to practice. We have a good group of corners competing. André Goodman seems to be healthy and doing well – and Keith Smith."

Goodman, a third-round selection, figures to have an expanded role in 2004.

"He's got some experience," said Mariucci. "He missed the season last year but he was around for meetings.

"If, in fact, Dré and Fernando are our starters, then André has got to figure in as a real important back-up or in our nickel and dime package and some of that sort of thing."

Bryant, who adds a veteran presence opposite Bly (without the flashiness), has missed the last week of camp due to a hamstring injury. Although he'll return in time for most of the pre-season, including the season opener, just about every corner the Lions have plugged in has performed well.

That will make Mariucci's decision on forming the final roster a very difficult one. But it's also a problem that the Lions have been eager to have for almost a decade.

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