The Detroit Lions most glaring weakness is at the cornerback position. General manager Martin Mayhew is relying on his former draft picks to step up and excel this season and did not make a significant offseason move to improve a glaring hole in the Lions defense. He had better hope it works out or this whole season could be a bust.
Darius Slay is now the top cornerback on the Lions. Gone is Chris Houston who was never able to properly recover from a toe injury last season and the Lions cut ties with him leaving Slay as their top guy. Slay is young, fast and strong and showed moments last year that give the Lions reason to believe he can become a great player. He also at times looked lost and overmatched. All in all it was a fairly typical rookie season for a cornerback. It’s a very difficult position to learn, though might become quite a bit easier this year with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin preferring to run more man to man coverage than complicated zone schemes. That should help Slay take advantage of his speed and agility.
The Lions need Slay to perform at a high level, especially because after him, there isn’t much hope. Rashean Mathis returns and will likely be the other starter on defense. Mathis is a former pro bowl player but is 34 years old and entering his 12th NFL season. The speed isn’t there anymore for Mathis, though he does make up for it with experience. Mathis did start 13 games for the Lions last year and was their most consistent cornerback throughout the season. That isn’t really a compliment though. The Lions secondary let far too many long passes and allowed third down completions at an alarming rate.
The Lions did select Nevin Lawson in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. He is expected to compete for playing time with the returning cornerbacks Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green and the newly signed Cassius Vaughn. None of these players have shown more than a glimmer of hope, and if Lawson is to be the third cornerback he’ll have to do so while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Mayhew passed on multiple opportunities to improve his secondary. He instead chose to load up on offense believing that is the way to the super bowl this year. I have a feeling passing up Darqueze Dennard will be a haunting mistake for Mayhew as he seems a perfect fit for this defense. Hopefully Eric Ebron will catch enough passes to make Lions fans forget what they could have had. If Slay turns into a star, that at least covers one side of the field. The big question is who will cover the other and will Slay look good only because there is no reason to throw in his direction?