Lions young cornerbacks need to grow up quick

Posted Mar 6, 2014

The Lions are expecting to see significant gains from the investment the last two years in cornerbacks Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green

Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have all alluded to the fact that adding talent to their secondary this offseason would be a good thing.

The Lions have ranked no higher than 13th in pass defense (average yards allowed per game) over the last 10 seasons. Eight of those years they’ve ranked 20th or worse.

If teams can’t cover in today’s NFL it doesn’t matter how much talent they might have in the front seven.

Bill BentleyBill Bentley (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Detroit needs to get better in the back end, no question about it, but how they go about doing that is the big question.

Do they utilize the free agent market that kicks off March 11? That’s a little more expensive route, but one that could see immediate gains.

Or do they look to May’s NFL Draft for help? Could they use an early-round pick to bolster the unit?

Maybe they end up using a combination of both.

It seems inevitable some new faces will be in the Lions secondary this offseason, but they could also get more help in the form of the four cornerbacks they’ve drafted in the last two years.

Sometimes people forget the Lions spent a second round (Darius Slay), third round (Bill Bentley), fifth round (Chris Greenwood) and sixth round pick (Jonte Green) on the cornerback position the last two years.

“I think all those guys are still improving,” Mayhew said this offseason. “I think if you look at how they played as rookies or how they performed as rookies and how they played last year, there was improvement there.”

For Bentley, Greenwood and Green, 2014 will be their third season in the NFL. It's time to start producing on a consistent basis.

Bentley has proven he can be a nice slot cornerback in this league, but he has to prove he can stay healthy.

Greenwood was physical and looked like he belonged when he got an opportunity to play late last season. Three games is way too small of a sample size to make any firm conclusions on him, however. This is a big season for Greenwood, who like Bentley, also has to prove he can stay healthy, especially in training camp.

Green is another physical cornerback whose started seven games his first two seasons. Can he emerge as a solid depth player for Austin’s defense?

“We want to see continued improvement from that group,” Mayhew said. “I thought Bill Bentley played some solid football for us at times. He also dealt with some injury issues.

“(Chris) Greenwood finally got an opportunity to get on the field, played some good football for us.

“Jonte Green didn’t play early, but came on late due to injuries and played solid for us at times.”

Then there’s Slay, who is expected to make a big leap in year two. Slay has ideal size and speed, which is why the team selected him 36th overall last year.

Slay is reportedly working with Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson this offseason. If he learns to trust his abilities, and get the mental part of the game down, he has a chance to really help the Lions in 2014.

“Obviously, Darius Slay has a bright future and he finished up strong in the Vikings game,” Mayhew said.

“So, it’s a young group. It’s still a developing group and I think they’re all very talented players and, you know, we’ll keep working with them.”

But like any investor, the Lions eventually have to see gains on that investment or they’ll look to sell and buy elsewhere.

“They can all play a little bit better than what they did in the past, but they are all on the right trajectory and are all improving every single year,” Mayhew said of his young cornerbacks. “I do want to see those guys get involved and get more action.

“They all have experience now and this is a good year for all those guys to step up. Those guys aren’t rookies anymore. They are second-and-third year players and we have high expectations for those group of guys.”