Cunningham made it clear to the secondary that injuries aren't allowed this year

Posted Jun 10, 2012

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham had a very clear message to his secondary when he met with them for the first time this offseason.

Cunningham laid out a clear mandate. He told them injuries weren’t allowed this year.

“We’ve really explained the facts of life to them,” Cunningham said of that meeting. “I told them about a philosophy that we play violent defense, aggressive, between-the-lines, honest, fair and we’re going to cover.

“But the most important thing is that we’re available and accountable through the season. We can’t have injuries.”

The two biggest injuries to the unit last year were to safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) on Thanksgiving. Delmas missed the next five games and Houston missed the next two and parts of two others. Neither player was 100-percent the remainder of the season.

While those injuries were certainly significant, they weren’t isolated. Lions defensive backs missed a combined 28 games last year. The number of missed practices was even more substantial, according to Cunningham.

“The defensive backs in December missed 32 to 34 practices,” he said. “The defensive line missed 33.”

It’s part of the reason the Lions went out and signed cornerback Jacob Lacey in free agency and drafted three cornerbacks in April. Lacey has starting experience in the NFL and all three draft picks proved to be durable in college.

"The last two games of the season, it was kind of a drop off," Houston said of last year’s two losses to finish the season against the Packers and Saints, when the Lions allowed 946 yards passing and nine touchdowns. "Before that, for those 13, 14 games, we were up there in the top. If we can stay healthy, we're going to surprise a lot of people."

If they can stay healthy?

The secondary depth hasn’t been good enough the past couple years to sustain a good level of play when starters have been injured. There’s just been too big of a drop off in production.

“They have the skills to (cover) but what they need to do is stay on the field,” Cunningham said. “We made a big push for that.”

The Lions seems better equipped at cornerback behind projected starters Houston and Berry with Lacey, Alphonso Smith and rookies Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green.

Erik Coleman’s return from last year's injured reserve list adds depth to the safety position and John Wendling is a quality backup.

Overall, the Lions seem like they have more depth in their secondary, but the starters staying healthy is still the biggest obstacle the unit faces this year.