“Severely challenged.” That’s what Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz had to say about the Lions’ secondary after their final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. For fans at Ford Field last Thursday it was a sight all too familiar, a decimated defensive backfield. After only one week of playing with the Lions, Kevin Barnes, a cornerback acquired via trade with the Washington Redskins, was out playing safety, due to low personnel. Not surprisingly, Alphonso Smith, another Lions’ cornerback, was also playing safety during the game.
The injury list is long, with Louis Delmas already missing time, and potentially the season opener, while recovering from knee surgery, and cornerbacks Bill Bentley and Chris Houston who suffered non-critical injuries in the third preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. When Ricardo Silva and Rashard Langford went down with injuries, Schwartz was forced to put in defensive backs who had been off the playing field for several hours.
All of these injuries and uncertainty in the Lions’ secondary has led to management claiming Drayton Florence during the 53-man roster cuts, while releasing Silva to acclimate room for the addition. Florence adds experience to a young defensive backfield and at age 31, Florence will be playing in his 10th NFL season this year. Though not as electrifying as Darrelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha, Florence has been a solid starter and defensive contributor for much of his career.
However, questions linger whether the former second round pick out of Tuskegee University still has what it takes to compete in the NFL. “The older you get the better you should be getting and that’s where I feel I’m at. My body feels good,” Florence responded when probed by reporters about the topic.
Optimistically, the Lions may have added enough depth in the secondary to get a solid performance this season. Bentley, the third round rookie, has shown flashes of brilliance while the pre-season additions of Florence and Barnes look to add experience behind their defensive backfield leader, Delmas.
If, and that’s a big if in my mind, the Lions’ secondary can stay healthy this year, they have a chance. When the Lions traded for Barnes, I questioned whether that would be enough time for him to learn the defense–especially while briefly appearing at safety. Now with the addition of Florence, I am really questioning their ability to absorb the defense, with only six days remaining before the Lions host the St. Louis Rams in their home opener. It helps that the Rams aren’t an NFC powerhouse and the Lions’ passing attack should be able to keep the bar low for a defense still trying to gel. As the season goes on, the ability for these players to mesh, as well as stay healthy will remain to be seen.