Nevin Lawson can feel the presence of a higher standard to perform up to in the Detroit Lions’ secondary this year, and it’s not just from adjusting to a new system and demands from head coach Matt Patricia and his staff.
Darius Slay raised the bar by making the Pro Bowl last season. It was Slay’s first Pro Bowl, and the first for a Lions cornerback since Dre Bly made back-to-back appearances in the 2003-04 seasons.
As he prepares for his fifth season as a Lion and fourth as a primary starter at right cornerback opposite Slay, Lawson feels that Slay's performance last year set a higher standard.
“It definitely did,” Lawson said. “Being around a guy like that, an All-Pro guy, we want to make sure we’re up there with his standard – just to make sure were competing at a high level.
“He wants to compete at a high level. We as a secondary want to compete at a high level.”
Call it peer pressure – or peer opportunity.
And it should not overshadow how safety Glover Quin, a Pro Bowler in 2014, is the overall leader of a secondary that has talent and continuity, with eight players returning from last season.
Offseason workouts open to the media showed that Patricia is more vocal than Jim Caldwell, his predecessor as head coach. That’s not something Lawson dwells on.
“All that stuff doesn’t matter,” he said. “The only thing I know is, I’m here to practice. My coach demands the best out of us.
“That’s what I’m here to do.”
Slay’s individual performance, Ziggy Ansah’s 12 sacks and the overall ability of the defense to generate turnovers were bright spots in a defense that that ranked 27th in the league last year, allowing 355.8 yards per game.
Slay tied for the league lead with eight interceptions, and the Lions tied for fourth with 19.
Lawson’s 44-yard fumble recovery in a win over Cleveland accounted for one of five touchdowns scored by the defense.
Lawson isn’t the type who needs external motivation. Whether it’s on the field or off, he works to accomplish personal goals.
One was to graduate from Utah State and attend commencement ceremonies. He did that, and spoke at the time about his pride in being the first member of his family to graduate from a four-year college.
Another was to bounce back from a career-threatening foot injury sustained in the second game of his rookie season in 2014.
Lawson got a break – no pun intended – from the timing. It was a road game against Carolina, where renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson is located. Lawson was treated immediately, which accelerated the healing process.
Lawson played 15 of 16 games in 2015 and started the last nine, and he started 31 of 32 games the last two years.
He became an unrestricted free agent this year and was signed back on a multi-year contract. That showed faith from Patricia and the personnel department that Lawson’s aggressive style of play fits Patricia’s defensive system.
There couldn’t have been much question about Lawson’s work ethic and desire to fit Patricia’s intensity and urgency.
“You have to find a way to understand the defense more,” Lawson said. “It’s something new for us. The only way we’re going to get it is by repetitions – doing it over and over.
“You just have to be on your job, and every day you come in you’d better be able to perform – be able to show up and understand you have to be better today. Go to work today.
“The intensity is very high. There’s no room for slacking off. If you slack off, you get exposed.”