Wendling's ability to step in as a starter has softened the blow of losing Delmas

Posted Sep 11, 2012

It should not be understated how well safeties John Wendling and Erik Coleman played Sunday in the Lions’ 27-23 victory over the Rams.

Wendling, in particular, filled in nicely for injured starter Louis Delmas (knee). Making just the third start in his six-year NFL career, Wendling was part of a concerted effort to stop Rams running back Steven Jackson (53 yards rushing vs. Lions) and was solid against the pass as the Lions secondary allowed less than 200 yards passing (198) against the Rams.

“He’s a humble player,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Wendling. “He played very well. Erik Coleman played very well. There’s a reason that those runs weren’t able to get out and get started. Our safeties were cleaning them up also. Those guys played well and they had to.”

The Lions were missing one of their best defenders in Delmas against the Rams, but it’s a credit to Wendling they didn’t feel his absence as much as they did the last five games of last season when he was out with a knee injury.

“The difference between a guy like John Wendling and Delmas is that, obviously, Louis is explosive and has the ability to turn and run and change directions,” said Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.

“What John has is the intelligence and does a good job of taking good angles to the ball. He knows where he’s supposed to line up and all those things help a player back there. Safeties have to be smart and he definitely smart.”

Wendling was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the Lions in 2010, his first season with the team after signing as a free agent, and is still a big contributor on special teams for the Lions with the punt-team gunner being among his many duties.

He’s made a career out of shining on special teams, but Cunningham said people should be careful not to label him as just a special teams player.

“I think other teams said he was a special teams player,” Cunningham said. “We never said that.

“When you watched him practice there was no doubt and Tim (Walton) and I both said, ‘Somewhere along the line he’s going to help us.’ Every time he stepped on the field - I don’t think any game he started for us we lost. We’ve won every game.”

It’s a small sample size, but Cunningham is right: all three of Wendling’s starts that have come with the Lions over the last two years - against the Vikings (Sept. 25) and Bears (Oct. 10) last year and Sunday against the Rams - the Lions have won.

“He has grown so much,” Cunningham said. “His ability to change direction in the open field and to play the ball; he knows the game. He’s really bright and really dedicated to it. That’s what it takes to play safety.”

It’s a credit to Wendling and his play Sunday that the Lions didn’t miss Delmas much at all.