One concern plaguing the Lions since the off-season (i.e. the trade of cornerback Dre' Bly) is the team's secondary. With an aging, oft-injured Fernando Bryant and a rather inexperienced Stanley Wilson serving as the starting cornerback tandem, the Lions are relying upon new defensive coordinator Joe Barry -- hoping the scheme can overcome personnel shortcomings.
So far, so good.
Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli has been impressed with his crew of defensive backs, which have experienced a directional shift from last year's coordinator Donnie Henderson.
While the team's Tampa Two defense remains in play, Barry's experience in the system (Henderson was a relative newbie) stresses instincts and speed among each defensive player.
"It's just in the details," said Marinelli during Saturday's camp media briefing. "We are on it. They know the rules, and you can see the speed. They are fast anyway, but when you know exactly what you are doing and why. This defense is about instincts and going. The worst thing you can do to instincts is to make it complicated where they are not using their speed. Right now they are using their speed.
"If we can get the front humming, then the interceptions are going to go up (along with) sacks and fumbles and those things. So I am very pleased with their tempo."
The Lions have already tagged first-year Lion Travis Fisher with the role of nickel back in the secondary. It is the same position that Buccaneers' standout Rhonde Barber played in Tampa Bay, using the same defensive scheme. An extremely agile and speedy athlete, Marinelli was confident that Fisher -- who started 10 games for St. Louis last year before breaking his arm -- can bring a similar style.
Like Barber, Fisher will be asked to blitz and cover the third receiver among other chores.
"It's the toughest spot, that's what a lot of people don't understand," said Marinelli. "This is a hard position. That guy, his skills, well a lot of skills he has to have. So we're hoping (Fisher) has a shot at it because it's not just man to man coverage. It's not that. It's a whole lot of stuff - how to check the run and do those things. He is doing good; we've just got to keep finding another guy and develop the depth in there."
One player will be cornerback Keith Smith, who joined the team as a third-round draft choice three years ago. But while Smith is being groomed to step in at nickel if needed, he -- like many of his secondary bretheren -- have demonstrated the versatility and tenacity to play wherever Barry and Marinelli want them to play.
"He's physical," Marinelli said. "He's got really good feet. You know how we have the exit angles as we come off in cover two when they re-route and you have to turn. You've got to have some hips, a flip of the hips and those things. He is a willing tackler, but he is also a guy who has got the great speed to play man.
"What you want to do is you just get these guys and just coach them everyday and not add a lot of stuff to them. It's fundamentals and skills, and doing the same things everyday. Not give him too many things to do, not look at him as a nickel. He's got nickel talent, but all the sudden you put him in there and I don't want to slow his progress down at all.
"I just want to develop him into a play and see him get better."