When the Lions released starting right cornerback Aaron Berry right before training camp began, it left a huge void in the secondary and a lot of questions on who the Lions might tap to fill that void.
It’s been clear since early in camp that it’s a two-man race between the rookie Bentley and the veteran Lacey to fill the spot.
Almost a month since training camp began July 27, the Lions don’t seem to be any closer in deciding on a winner, either.
“Well, we’re going to let it play out,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said after practice Wednesday. “We’ve got a lot of personnel meetings that come within the next week and a half. Jim’s involved as are all the personnel and coaches. We’ll have to make the decision at the right time.”
Bentley is the candid and confident rookie from the football hotbed of Pahokee, Fla, who’s shown great promise and some flash since the Lions drafted him in the third round of April’s NFL Draft.
Lacey is more the quiet, confident type from Garland, Texas, who started 27 games in his NFL career before the Lions signed as a free agent this offseason. There isn’t as much flash to Lacey’s game as there is substance and consistency.
While Bentley and Lacey may be competing for a starting position on the field, off of it the competition hasn’t put a damper on a friendship that started back in May.
“I just met Jacob in May and right now me and Jacob are like best friends,” Bentley said. “We hang out everyday. Even though we are competing for the starting spot we hang out a lot. We go over the playbook together. When I don’t understand something he’s always there right beside me.”
Even in the heat of competition, Lacey has taken Bentley under his wing and is helping the rookie navigate his way through his first season in the NFL.
“There’s not any type of turmoil or anything like that,” Lacey said of his relationship with Bentley. “Bill is one of my better friends on the team. In a sense, we kind of came in together battling for a new spot. We have a locker right next to each other. We hang out everyday. I help him out because ultimately it is about the success of the team and winning games. However the position battle may fall, whenever I get out on the field I’m still going to do what I have to do to help us win.”
Lacey has adopted the motto that whatever is good for the team is good for him.
“Anytime there’s a position battle going on it’s a chance to bring out the best in guys and ultimately brings out the best in the team,” he said. “It gives us a chance to go out there and try to put our best foot forward and put the best consecutive days on tape.”
Bentley started the Lions preseason opener against the Browns and after being beaten deep on his third play as a professional, recorded an interception, two passes defended and a tackle.
Cunningham told reporters Wednesday that the thing he’s been most impressed with about Bentley is the fact that he’s had one bad practice in all of camp.
“For a rookie to have one bad day, that’s saying a lot about Bill Bentley,” Cunningham said.
Lacey started last week’s game in Baltimore, recording one tackle and playing well. There weren’t any big plays from Lacey or any behind him. He wasn’t noticed, which isn't such a bad thing for a cornerback.
In the end, whoever becomes the starter at right cornerback for the Lions’ Week 1 matchup at Ford Field against the Rams will be the player who was the most consistent day in and day out.
“They need to be consistent at corner,” Schwartz said of Bentley and Lacey. “That’s a position where consistency is at a premium.
“There can be a wide receiver that can make three catches and drop one and the other three are touchdowns and it’s fine. If you’re a defensive back and you defend well three times and then give up one on the fourth and it’s a touchdown you don’t look so good. We need consistency with that position and the ability to play within out scheme.”
May the best man win.