LIONS INSIDER

NOTEBOOK: Lions benefitting from Rashean Mathis' versatility

Posted Nov 7, 2013

With the injury to CB Bill Bentley, the veteran Mathis has become invaluable for the Detroit Lions

The knee injury to nickel cornerback Bill Bentley is considered "short term" but his status for Sunday's game in Chicago is in doubt after the second-year cornerback missed his third practice of the week on Thursday.

Bentley was injured early vs. Dallas, forcing the Lions to juggle around cornerbacks. It was one of those situations where they were happy to have veteran Rashean Mathis, who can play both inside and outside.

"Mathis gives us flexibility," head coach Jim Schwartz said after practice Thursday. "In the last game with Dallas, we had a package where Don Carey played in there also. He has the flexibility to be able to do that.

"Both of our safeties can cover wide receivers, so we don't necessarily have to go nickel. Both of those guys have good range and good man-to-man skills and former corners in their background. We'll have a lot of different ways to be able to handle that."

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay took over on the outside for the injured Bill Bentley. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

It was Mathis, however, who the Lions leaned on against Dallas. After Bentley got hurt, Mathis moved from his outside cornerback position to the inside slot and rookie Darius Slay played on the outside with Chris Houston.

"It's a lot different," Mathis said of playing the slot vs. outside. "But I like it a lot.

"A lot of plays come on the inside. You can make a lot of plays as a nickel, especially if you're a savvy guy and you know what you're doing."

Playing in his 11th season, Mathis certainly qualifies. He has been the team's most consistent corner all year, but to Bentley's credit, he was playing well leading into the injury.

"He was trending up for sure," Schwartz said of Bentley. "Nickel is a different position. It's a lot different than playing outside at corner. It's not just the blitz game and the run support, but the routes are different and things like that.

"He had some growing pains and some on-the-job training. He was definitely trending the right way. We were starting to sort of reap the rewards from some of those on-the-job training plays. We'll get him back. I don't know how long it's going to be, but we'll get him back."

In the meantime, Mathis will hold down the fort inside in the nickel and the rookie Slay will get  a chance to make some plays on the outside.

"I've gotten used to the speed," Slay said Thursday, when asked what the biggest development in his game has been the first half of the season.

"I've gotten used to the speed and I'm really not second guessing what's going on. I'm just jumping to it. I think a lot of folks have seen that I'm improving every week  and that's what I'm going to continue to do."

The secondary will have its first big test of the second half against receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and the Bears' No. 2 scoring offense.

CUTLER NAMED STARTER

The Chicago Bears announced Thursday that quarterback Jay Cutler has been cleared to start Sunday. That doesn't necessarily mean he will, but that door is certainly open.

Cutler suffered a groin injury Oct. 20 against the Redskins and was expected to miss four weeks, but he could return after missing just six quarters and a Bye Week.

"If I wasn't back to 100 percent or if they had any doubts, I wouldn't have been practicing today," Cutler told the Chicago Sun-Times after practice on Thursday.

Josh McCown started last week against Green Bay, and led the Bears to a 27-20 victory.

"There's nothing that he can't do physically to play the position," head coach Mark Trestman said of Cutler after practice.

Schwartz said his coaching staff and players have been preparing for both quarterbacks all week, so Thursday's development is no huge surprise to them.

"We expect all hands on deck in a game like this," Schwartz said. "If (Cutler's) able to, he'll get out there and play. He's a tough guy, he's a competitor. He's played through injuries before. We'll be ready for both of them.

"I think you can sort of be suckered that way a little bit. (You can) think a guy is not going to be full speed and you plan on him not being that way and all of a sudden he's out there and he's playing. So we always prepare for guys being at a 100-percent. If they're not in the game, well then sort of play it after that."

H-BACK BACK IN THE OFFENSE

Running back Montell Owens is eligible to return the field against the Bears after sitting out the first eight games on short-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

The Pro Bowl cover man is expected to make an impact on special teams, but he also brings another potential dynamic back into the Lions offense -- the H-back.

Before he was injured in the third preseason game, Owens (5-10, 225) was playing a little bit of the H-back role for the Lions.

"That's what the plan was for him," Schwartz said. "He's been away for awhile, but he's got some flexibility there. He can carry the ball. He can be a tailback. He can also be a fullback-type position. He's always been a good contributor on special teams."

It's just one more wrinkle at the Lions disposal.

"He goes more through the running back side of things than a tight end, but they all kind of at some point meet in the middle," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Owens. "He can probably take on some of those things as he gets back in the swing of things."

YOGA MASTER

A common practice among NFL football players that might not be common knowledge to the public is their participation in yoga.

A lot of players use yoga as a way to stretch and improve flexibility. Count All Pro receiver Calvin Johnson among the list.

"I've been doing yoga for three or four years now," Johnson said Thursday. "I started doing it when Drew Stanton was here. His wife was a yoga instructor, so we would always do it at his house."

It's even become a part of his game-day routine.

"Wake up, stretch, do my yoga, do whatever I have to do treatment wise to get my body, whatever aches are going on to feel better before we leave the hotel," he said.

"I've seen, definitely, a positive impact from just being lose in my hips and hamstrings. I know it's something that works for me and I've been doing it ever since.”