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NOTEBOOK: Familiar faces easing Banks' transition

Darius Slay returned to practice Wednesday from his hamstring injury, and was reunited with one of his old college teammates.

The Lions acquired cornerback Johnthan Banks from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday, sending a conditional 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Tampa in exchange for Banks.

Slay and Banks played together for one season at Mississippi State, and were both second-round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft -- Slay to the Lions at pick 36 and Banks 43rd overall.

"It does make (the transition) a little easier with Slay being here," Banks said Wednesday of the move to Detroit. "And T.O. (Lions defensive backs coach Tony Oden), who drafted me.

"I'm thankful to be here with Slay and really get to see him go out and compete every day like we did in college."

Oden was the Bucs' defensive backs coach in 2013 when Banks was a rookie. Banks (6-2, 185) started all 16 games his first season in Tampa Bay, so Oden knows his skillset well.

Banks played in 50 games (37 starts) for Tampa Bay over the last four years. His career totals include 130 tackles (109 solo), seven interceptions, one touchdown, 16 pass defenses and two tackles for loss.

Banks fell out of favor in Tampa Bay and eventually lost his starting spot, but it should be noted that the Bucs had three different head coaches and three different defensive coordinators in the four years Banks was in Tampa.

"Every year, when you're getting a new defense, new defensive coordinator, new defensive back coach, everybody wants to mold and twist you and make you into this player and that player," Banks said. "It kind of gets old and you lose your fire for the game. It's frustrating."

Banks is hoping a fresh start in Detroit with some familiar faces is just the thing his game needs to get back on track.

The Lions could certainly use the help.

They have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. They've allowed 19 touchdowns, have just four interceptions and opposing quarterbacks have a league-high 113.7 passer rating against them this year.

It's unclear where exactly Banks will fit in the Lions' secondary after playing in five games, mostly on special teams, for the Bucs this year, but head coach Jim Caldwell likes his length and ball skills.

"He's long, he's got speed and we've had a couple guys obviously played a little bit with Darius (Slay)," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Also, Tony Oden had him as well, so we had a pretty good feel for him, so we're excited about him."

Banks' seven interceptions in 37 starts, which equates to a little more than two full seasons, jumps out. He holds the Mississippi State record with 16 interceptions. He has terrific ball skills, something he said his baseball background helped him develop.

"I played high school baseball and won three state championships. I played center field and shortstop. You see that little white ball in the sky, then you see this big brown one, it makes it a lot easier.

"I just know how to find the ball, man. God blessed me with good ball skills. I just have a knack for the ball. If you throw the ball around me too much I'm going to get one of them eventually."

We'll see if Banks can carve out a role in Detroit's secondary and get a chance to get his hands on that big brown ball at some point for the Lions.


The last time Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played in Minnesota, he was hit so hard and so often, he needed x-rays on his ribs following the game. That was Week 2 last season in a 26-16 loss.

The Vikings' encore performance in Week 7 featured 13 more hits on Stafford, and seven sacks in a 25-17 win over the Lions. That loss ushered in the Jim Bob Cooter era on offense in Detroit.

Since 2014, only Denver (118), Philadelphia (107) and Kansas City (107) have sacked opposing quarterbacks more than the Vikings (104). Minnesota is tied for third in the NFC with 20 sacks in seven games.

So how do the Lions keep Stafford protected Sunday in Minnesota? It might be as simple as scheme, according to Stafford, particularly the Lions' simpler scheme upfront since Cooter took over the offense Week 8 last season.

"That's what they're known for, it's what they're really good at," Stafford said of the Vikings' blitz packages. "The last two times we played these guys we were a little different schematically than we are now.

"We'll be able to take a look at them this week, study them hard and work to try and find solutions that will fit us."


Matt Prater has missed a 49-yard field goal in each of Detroit's last two games, and is 13-of-16 (81.3 percent) on field goals tries this season.

Despite the recent misses, Caldwell still has a ton of confidence in his veteran kicker's ability.

"Well, you know, I just think he's an unusual guy," Caldwell said. "I mean just look at the track record. He's been very good and obviously that's a huge part of the game, being able to get points, consistent points from your kicking game.

"I do think that the National Football League has got a lot of them. A lot of guys that can kick that ball through and do a good job in that area. We're just fortunate to have him and I think he's been worth his weight in gold for us."

Prater does have 11 career game-winning kicks with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter or overtime, including three this season in wins over Indianapolis (0:04), Philadelphia (1:28) and Los Angeles (1:29).

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