A point of concern during their playoff drought, the secondary of the Detroit Lions was historically bad in 2008 and 2009, allowing opposing QBs to average triple digit ratings. Over the last two seasons, the improvement has been lucid.
The defensive backfield currently ranks second in the league with 18 interceptions and seventh with 82 passes defended. Since taking over as general manager in 2008, Martin Mayhew – a former NFL cornerback – has overhauled the unit. Currently, the longest tenured defensive back on the roster is safety Louis Delmas, the first defensive player (and third player overall) drafted by Mayhew. With significant upgrades via trade, free-agent and the draft, the franchise has talent in its secondary.
However, they also made another very important upgrade in 2009 after hiring Tim Walton to coach the unit. Formerly the defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis, Walton accepted his first NFL position with the Lions. Since joining the organization, he has helped transform the former lackluster group, while forging strong relationships with his players.
Cornerback-turned-safety and second year player Amari Spievey has credited Walton with helping him with his transition, while Alphonso Smith, who jumped from inactive to a starring role in the team's win over Minnesota, explained that Walton’s attention to all of his players – not just the starters – has helped the entire unit develop.
His approach has been especially helpful to a defensive backfield that has recently been met with a rash of injuries. It's a straight-forward concept that the players appreciate, and allows for a competitive atmosphere that pays off on gameday -- regardless of who is on the field.
“He cuts straight to the chase,” said veteran Chris Houston, who is expected to return from a knee injury to start Sunday at Oakland. “(He) tells you what you need to do, no sugar coating, tells you if you don’t do it then you’re going to be replaced.
"(It’s) the pressure he puts on us to be the best everyday… and it’s not just one person that gets it; (Louis) Delmas can get it, I can get it, Eric (Wright) can get it, down to (Ricardo) Silva. There’s no favoritism.”
As the Lions depth gets tested, their coaching staff becomes increasingly important, and Walton has done his part in preparing the secondary – a unit that has improved every season since he has arrived.
The hard work hasn't gone unnoticed, either.
“He is playing really good,” said Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson of Lions No. 2 cornerback Eric Wright. “I played against Eric before when he was in Cleveland and Eric is a really good football player. Always has been. Very smart, looks like he studies the game and he gets after it. The guy, number 27 (Alphonso Smith), is a real good player also so these are two of the better corners we have played against and Delmas at safety is a man child so they are very talented all around the board on defense so we got to bring our ‘A’ game and play well.”
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