Grading the Detroit Lions: Secondary


This post is part of a series of posts in which I review the Lions position groups based on their play in the 2010 season. I assign a letter grade and give you a chance to have your say with a poll at the end.

The secondary was the position group that scared me the most heading into the season. I had visions of our NFC North rivals putting up 400 yard passing days against the Lions pass defense and it made me sick.

I fully expected this unit to earn an F before the season began. Fortunately, they exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately, they still weren’t very good.

Louis Delmas had a solid but disappointing season. He did finish the year as the team’s leading tackler but failed to step up with the big play potential he displayed as a rookie. Perhaps the groin injury lingered and affected his production but Delmas is expected to be more than “solid”. He is, and should be, entrenched as a building block of the defense but has a ways to go before he is talked about with the elite safeties like Troy Polamalu.

Amari Spievey‘s play of the year might be his acrobatic interception against the Packers after Greg Jennings bobbled the catch. While it was certainly a nice play, we tend to forget that Spievey was burned on the play and Jennings should have had an easy touchdown. That single play was a microcosm of Spievey’s rookie season, you take the good with the bad. He finished as the team’s seventh leading tackler despite learning the safety position on the fly. Amari should become more consistent as the position becomes more natural to him and the early returns suggest the Lions made the right call when they moved him to safety.

Alphonso Smith has to be commended considering the Lions acquired him from the Broncos in an exchange of players that probably would have been cut anyway. Smith came up with five interceptions in the team’s first eight games, including one for a touchdown that lead to an entertaining celebratory dance. The second half of the season was in stark contrast to the first. A quick glance at Smith’s game log on his Yahoo player page makes it look like he didn’t play on Thanksgiving day. Of course, he actually did play. He was the guy chasing Deion Branch and being thoroughly abused by Tom Brady. He played in one more game before ending his season due to injury.

The Lions other low-cost starting cornerback, Chris Houston, didn’t have as high of highs but played solid football more consistently than Smith. Only coming up with one interception is disappointing but he was a good tackler and didn’t seem like a big liability in coverage. The Lions will definitely look to keep him around but shouldn’t have to pay him premium money because he isn’t a premium player.

Nathan Vasher did a nice job when called upon when the injuries started to pile up in the Lions secondary. He is the most likely of the journeymen replacements the Lions brought in to come back with the team next year. Aaron Berry, an often forgotten about undrafted rookie from Pitt, made three tackles and picked off Jay Cutler in week one before suffering a season ending injury. His return should help bolster the team’s depth in the secondary.

The Lions intercepted a total of 14 passes in 2010, one more than their combined season total from the two previous years. Four came from players in the front seven but the increase in production is good to see regardless. The secondary, cornerback specifically, will be a primary position of need this draft season and some personnel moves will have to be made if the Lions defense is going to take a step forward next year. No one will mistake anyone in the Lions secondary as a lock down defender but they did exceed my expectations. That is pretty sad considering the grade they deserve.
Overall Secondary Grade: C-

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