COORDINATOR CUT-UP: Gunther Cunningham says there's no substitute for experience

Posted Sep 17, 2013

Experience is such a valuable commodity in the NFL and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is seeing the benefits of that with LB DeAndre Levy

Experience is such a valuable commodity in the NFL.

In this weeks Coordinator Cut-Up with defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, he talks about the early performances of linebacker DeAndre Levy and cornerback Bill Bentley being another example of how experience and consistency tend to go hand-in-hand.

Levy, who’s in his fifth season with the Lions, has come into his own these first two weeks and has been a consistent performer.

"I think the biggest thing I noticed when he came in this year was his focus," Cunningham said of Levy. "He really understands the game much, much better. I think (linebackers coach) Matt Burke has done a good job with him. The three of us have been together since we all got here (in 2009).

"He had some injuries early in his career and he was around some guys that really didn’t know how to play this game. When Tully and Justin Durant (now in Dallas) came in, Levy turned the corner."

Levy is tied for the NFL lead with two interceptions and is the Lions' leader in tackles with 12 through the first two games.

"I like to compare him to Chad Greenway," Cunningham said. "Chad Greenway is one of my heroes. I love watching him play. He’s really come on and Levy is on that same track.

"It’s really fun to see him grow and he’s taking great command of the team on the sideline as well. We talk about ‘this guy is a leader’ and ‘that guy is a leader’. (Levy) doesn’t say much, but when he speaks up it’s very volatile and very loud and he says the right things and it’s not always what you like to hear. He’s going to tell you the way he feels, which is a great thing. I’m proud of him. I can’t say it any different way."

The Lions are trying to get the consistency from Bentley, a second-year player. Bentley played well vs. Minnesota Week 1, but was picked on in Arizona. He allowed seven completions and had two big pass interference penalties.

"Guys like Bill make mistakes because they are trying to win and they really don’t have the game under their control yet because they are young," Cunningham said. "We just got through talking about DeAndre Levy, he’s got four or five years in.

"Bill is going through some growing pains. What (young players) need to understand is that just because things went well in one game, that next one up, watch it, they’re going to work on you and I think that’s what happened."

Bill BentleyCB Bill Bentley (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Bentley earned a starting spot out of training camp last year, but only played in four games before going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He’s been playing the nickel cornerback spot this year. Counting Sunday, he's played in six regular season games.

"He had a really good game against Minnesota," Cunningham said. "(Cardinals offensive coordinator) Tom Moore down in Arizona knows what he’s doing and they attacked him a little bit and we had to pay the price.

"You have to be on top of your man in man-to-man coverage, meaning you have to be ahead of him when you go downfield. What happened is he lost his guys a couple of times and you try to make up for it and that’s where the flags come out.

"He needs to improve that and I think he will. He’s improved most of the things we’ve asked him to work on, this is another step for him."

Cunningham has opted, at times, to bring in veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis to replace rookie Darius Slay, in turn utilizing his 10 years of experience.

There are lessons Bentley and Slay can only learn from the experience of going through it.

They are the same lessons Levy has been through and the Lions are now seeing the benefits because of it.

Also from Cunningham:

On the defense leading the NFL in third-down percentage (14.3): "We’re pretty tough upfront and quarterbacks tend to throw the ball fairly quick. Carson Palmer let the ball go in 2.5 seconds, so when you hurry his body clock, that really helps the coverage. We didn’t have the people we have now, we had to blitz a little more, but lately, we’ve had a lot of success with the four-man rush and real tight coverage. So it’s a real good overall scheme.

"I’ve always shot for 32 percent (on third down) at the end of the year. I believe one year here we were 32.9, which is really something. It’s two games. I really don’t start looking at that stuff until half dozen games go by. Then you can kind of tell where you’re going to end up.