Projected Starters: Chris Houston (CB), Jonathan Wade (CB), Louis Delmas (FS), C.C. Brown (SS)
After a strong rookie campaign, Louis Delmas returns as the unquestioned leader among this group, but for the second consecutive year, every position around him is plagued by a question mark. The Lions revamped the position via free-agency, and picked up Amari Spievey in the draft. Although Spievey will compete to start at cornerback, it's more likely that the veterans with experience -- Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade -- settle in with the first team. Houston and Wade have more youth, and comparatively, much more athleticism than dispatched vets Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry. It will also mark the sixth consecutive season Detroit has ushered in a fresh pair of starting cornerbacks. However, both Wade and Houston have question marks, ranging from inconsistent play to confidence concerns from previous posts. The safety position beside Delmas is also transient. Although C.C. Brown handled off-season reps, Detroit is still looking to acquire help at the position. Furthermore, Brown wasn't exactly Mr. Reliable in the Giants' secondary a season ago.
If there's a bright spot in Detroit's secondary, it is free safety Louis Delmas
Projected Back-ups: Eric King (NB), Dre Bly (CB), Amari Spievey (CB), Ko Simpson (FS), Marquand Manuel (SS)
King has flown under the radar, resulting from the six-year player's season ending injury early in 2009. But King's specialty undoubtedly resides at nickel back, and although he'll have competition from Dre Bly and even Spievey, the coaching staff loves his reaction time and route-jumping abilities. Bly, 33, provides adequate depth but isn't 16-game starter material any longer. The Lions want to see Spievey compete for a starting nod, and he'll have every opportunity in camp. Spievey performed well in mini-camp and other off-season programs, and at worst, could be a valuable third corner. Detroit will push the Iowa product onto the field often in attempt to garner experience. Simpson and Manuel could both be off the squad by the time camp ends, and will have to earn roster spots. The Lions would like to produce additional help before and during camp to help manipulate competition at those positions.
Other than Delmas, the Lions fielded individuals last season that weren't real defensive backs; they just play them in the NFL. Although poor defensive line play compounded the problem, Buchanon and and Henry were ill-equipped to handle the rigors of Gunther Cunningham's defense, which calls often for man-to-man coverage. It resulted in an opposing passing efficiency that rivaled most Madden games (almost 70 percent), along with giving up a league-high 35 touchdowns through the air. The safety position didn't fair much better. Although Delmas added a talented element, he wasn't without fault, making the occasional rookie miscue while being looked upon as the quarterback of the defense. The strong safety position played host to a handful of ineffective players, Manuel included.
Another year under the belt of Delmas should certainly help orchestrate the secondary, but despite new faces, it remains the weakest link on a still evolving roster. Wade and Houston are talented athletes, certainly, but there wasn't exactly a myriad of other NFL teams pounding on the door to acquire them.
Despite new faces, (the secondary) remains the weakest link in the still evolving roster.
Houston started regularly in Atlanta the past three years, and left with the bulk of the blame for the Falcons' secondary struggles. Wade caught similar flack, but only started six games in the previous three seasons. In a league where each team has at least one stud cornerback, and others have two (Green Bay, for example), the Lions field none. Making the secondary more vulnerable is the lack of a solid strong safety opposite Delmas. Detroit's hope is that a competitive atmosphere results in a solid product, but that's wishful thinking at this point.
I'd Rather Have ... Darrelle Revis (CB), Antonio Cromartie (CB), Jim Leonhard (S), Eric Smith (S) / New York Jets
The Jets grounded just about every aerial assault in 2009, thanks in no small part to the play of the talented Darrelle Revis. In 2010, they might be even better with the acquisition of Antonio Cromartie (San Diego), who flaunts similar athleticism to Revis' all-world skills. Either of their reserves, Dwight Lowry and Kyle Wilson, could probably start in Detroit. Meanwhile, Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith are strong in protection and more than adequate against the run.
But They're Better Than ... Brice McCain (CB), Glover Quin (CB), Bernard Pollard (S), Eugene Wilson (S) / Houston Texans
Maybe. Adding Chicago was a possiblity here, too, since Charles Tillman is on the decline and there isn't much opposite him or in the deep secondary. But as entertaining as it might be to read hate mail from Chicago fans, it wouldn't be entirely accurate. However, if there exists a defensive backfield that has the ability to supplant the Lions as league bottom-feeder, it's Houston. Quin and McCain were both rookies last year, and they weren't particularly good, either. Pollard and Wilson are the veteran safeties.
Since the entire plot of Gunther Cunningham's defense revolves around pressuring the quarterback, and because they didn't do it last year, the argument could be made that the secondary was set up for failure in 2009. Yet, as pointed out in a beautiful analysis done by our friend Ty at The Lions In Winter blog, a revamped defensive line built to pressure the quarterback doesn't guarantee success. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." The Lions secondary in 2010 would be the second to last ... I think. They need consistency both in name and play, and haven't had it for the better part of a decade. If it doesn't start in 2010, it will begin with next year's draft.