All Eyes On Lions Secondary As Camp Begins

Jim Schwartz (Tim Fuller, USPW)

Alphonso Smith has been penciled in to start, and Louis Delmas and Chris Houston are forging quite the chemistry in the backfield. Sill, questions lurk in Detroit's secondary after the unit's struggles in 2011.

ALLEN PARK -- All eyes are on the Detroit Lions secondary.

Ever since the defense surrendered 928 passing yards in the last two games of 2011, many have been clamoring for the team to add a starter – or two – to the defensive backfield.

Since that time, the Lions watched last year's number two cornerback, Eric Wright, leave via free agency and have recently released their number three cornerback, Aaron Berry, due to off-the-field issues.

The Lions opened training camp on Friday and joining the team's incumbent starters – cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas – were cornerback Alphonso Smith and safety Eric Coleman (both were reserves for the team a year ago).

Smith has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason but may have had a tremendous opportunity fall into his lap.

He has begun camp as a starter and will have the chance to prove his worth in a contract year.

Still, the fourth-year pro has learned that nothing is promised in the NFL.

"Well, being on the ones today means absolutely nothing," said Smith. "It's not who starts in the front, it's who ends in the front. It doesn't hold any significance until the St. Louis Rams come into Ford Field. I'm approaching everyday like it's my last because you never know. I've had a career where I've been up and I've been down. I know how fast it can turn. Just trying to work hard and earn the job."

Smith's strongest challenge figures to come from rookie Bill Bentley, the Lions third-round selection in this year's draft.

Bentley – in his first NFL training camp – has already been thrust into the Lions starting nickel back role as well as serving as an outside corner with the second unit.

This caught Bentley by surprise, but he's not taking anything for granted as he tries to earn a starting job.

"I didn't expect that," said Bentley. "Right now, I don't expect to even have a job. I go out and try to compete and climb the ladder as far as I can. Right now, we don't have any starters, like coach says. I'm just trying to go out and compete."

Bentley asks a lot of questions and takes a lot of notes, as he attempts to prepare himself to be a contributing player on the defense form day one. As he put it, "I take notes, they always tell me, the best players in the league take the most notes."

His work ethic and desire to learn have made a positive impression on his teammates.

"It's always a learning process, but he will learn because he's a quick learner," said Houston. "That's one thing I like about him. He's a competitor and he listens. He's going to pick it up fast and there'll be some bumps but I know he'll learn from that."

Delmas, Houston feeling the chemistry

The secondary should be aided by a healthy Delmas, who is gaining more continuity with Houston. The two could be easily seen exchanging hand signals before plays in team scrimmages, adjusting their coverage and reacting to the formation of the offense.

"I've been playing with Delmas for three years now and I have a feel for him and he has a feel for me," said Houston. "We can communicate with each other. That's coming along with Eric Coleman and, of course, Amari Spievey. When you know how someone plays, you are more comfortable. Right now, we're getting comfortable."

On paper, the Lions don't seem to have the same talent in the secondary heading into the season as they did a year ago. However, the comfort level amongst the returning players have, familiarity with the system and a quick-learning rookie give the group a chance to prove that what is on the field trumps what is on paper.

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