Secondary will face a team of Calvin Johnson-sized receivers this week

Posted Dec 21, 2011

Playing against Calvin Johnson every day in practice and in training camp has its positives and negatives for Lions defensive backs.

The negatives --- there will likely be more bad days than good days.

The positives --- they get to hone their skills against the game’s most physically gifted receiver.

It’s moments like those that prepare them for games like Saturday --- against the Chargers -- when they’ll face big, physical receivers like Vincent Jackson (6-5, 230), Malcom Floyd (6-5, 225) and Antonio Gates (6-4, 260).

“Vincent Jackson has some things in his game that are similar to Calvin,” said corner Alphonso Smith, who until three weeks ago was working against Johnson every day on the scout team. “He’s not as fast or explosive as Calvin is, but as far as strength and physical makeup, they’re similar.”

The Chargers have averaged 36 points and 268 passing yards over their current three-game win streak, including seven touchdown passes.

“They've got good running backs, they've got good tight ends --- perennial Pro Bowl tight end --- really productive wide receivers, with some really good size,” said Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

“I’d love to get Calvin out on the scout team this week to give us a look, but that’s what we’re looking at --- 6-foot-5 wide receivers. They've got a quarterback that knows how to get him the ball, throws accurate passes, and has a history of doing it.”

There are unique challenges for smaller corners like Chris Houston (5-10), Eric Wright (5-10), Aaron Berry (5-11) and Alphonso Smith (5-9) when playing against guys five and six inches taller.

“They get into the top of the routes,” Houston said of the Chargers’ receivers. “For a 5-10 corner like me, their arms extend and basically they try and body you and push off. That can be kind of frustrating because the ref isn’t going to call it.”

But there are some benefits to playing big receivers, too, according to Houston.

“A bigger wide receiver gives us much more to hit than a little wide receiver,” he said. “When you press they can give us that chest and you can be able to get in there. We just have to be more physical at the top of the routes.”

Smith said it’s a simple matter of playing to your strengths.

“As a smaller guy, I’m quicker and faster and I have an advantage on the intermediate routes and you have to rely on that,” he said. “As a big guy, I’m pretty sure he’s going to rely on his size and try and body you.

“It’s all about using your strengths and seeing who can make the most plays and who has a better fastball.”