NFC North: Nevin Lawson

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit’s injury-go-corner is continuing to spin.

What began as a comfortable position entering the season with the improving Bill Bentley turned into a question mark with Nevin Lawson when Bentley suffered a torn ACL. Then Lawson sustained dislocated toes, leaving veteran Cassius Vaughn as the next corner up.

That might have lasted less than a week.

Vaughn
The slot cornerbacks have been dropping all over the place – in games and even in practice this week with Vaughn being limited Wednesday and out Thursday, leaving him at least questionable for Sunday.

Not knowing who could be at the nickel can change what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and head coach Jim Caldwell want to do during a week.

“There are some things you can do exactly the same,” Caldwell said. “There are some things that happen where all of a sudden you have to play towards that individual’s strengths so it allows you to do some things that you weren’t able to do before.

“The antithesis of that would be that there are some weaknesses that may come to light as well so schematically you want to stay away from those things that put you in bad positions.”

This is what the Lions have to figure out, especially if Vaughn ends up unable to play. If that is the case, Detroit will either move Rashean Mathis inside on Randall Cobb and play newly signed free agent Danny Gorrer on the outside, have Gorrer play the slot or drop Don Carey down into the slot -- a position he has played before.

Considering Vaughn’s status as of now, it might be a combination of things throughout the game.

The real damage, though, is what happens in games when the Lions lose a nickel corner.

All the preparation the Lions do all week, all the communication Glover Quin, Mathis and Darius Slay have prepared with the slot cornerback all of a sudden becomes meaningless. That practice time suddenly has much less worth.

What went in as planned has become instinctual for Detroit the past two weeks, as Bentley turned into Lawson and then Vaughn at the nickel.

“I don’t think it takes away because some of those things are just game plan things as far as stuff that we’ve seen on film and we want to do this week. Just the basic system and the scheme don’t change,” Quin said. “If you’re working with just one guy and you’re doing certain things in practice and as a veteran player you may go to them and say, ‘Hey if we get this look in a game, let’s do this. When we get this look, this is how we’re going to play it. If we get this look in practice, let’s do this right here and if it works in practice, in a game this is how we’re going to play this.

“When you’re in a game, that’s what you’re expecting with that guy. When you get a new guy in there, I can’t go to him and say this is what we’re going to do because we haven’t talked about that that week so you have to just play it normal and let your rules be your guide.”

If one thing is certain, though, the Lions understand how to cope with an injury to a secondary that has been full of them already.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Each week, we'll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Vaughn
CB Cassius Vaughn: The whole next man up cliché has been fitting well with Detroit's slot cornerback position, as injuries shelved starter Bill Bentley and top reserve Nevin Lawson for the season. This leaves the inside corner position to Cassius Vaughn or the outside corner spot if the team chooses to play Rashean Mathis inside. Either way, it's a starting opportunity this week for Vaughn against a tough Green Bay passing attack led by Aaron Rodgers. But the extremely confident fifth-year pro from Mississippi could be in a position to thrive.

RT Garrett Reynolds: He was signed last week and started against Carolina on Sunday at right tackle. Considering he is essentially a converted guard, Reynolds held up well against a talented Panthers front four and did enough to probably hold on to the starting role until LaAdrian Waddle returns from a calf injury. Right now, it is unclear when Waddle will be back, although it is expected he won't be out for too much longer.

CB Darius Slay: The second-year corner from Mississippi State had his second straight good game on Sunday against Carolina. The Panthers threw at Slay seven times according to Pro Football Focus and he had only three of those passes caught on him, including two by tight end Greg Olsen, who was always going to be a mismatch problem for him. Slay appears more confident through two games this season than he was at any point during his rookie year in 2013. He is slowly developing into Detroit's best cornerback.

FALLING:

Bell
Bush
Bush
Detroit's run game: Joique Bell and Reggie Bush have not been as effective as the Lions would like so far this season. Neither player has over 100 yards rushing and both Bush and Bell are under 4 yards per carry this season. The first halves of games have been particularly tough, as the Lions have 44 yards on 25 carries in the opening two quarters of games. Ball security is also an issue as Bell has two fumbles in his first two games.

CB Nevin Lawson: Rough situation for Lawson, who is out for the season after dislocating the toes in his left foot against Carolina on Sunday. The rookie was seeing his first planned significant action when the injury occurred on special teams. This could be a difficult injury to come back from, so it might take him some time.

Tight end reception production: Through two games, the Lions aren't using their tight ends a ton in the passing game. Combined, Joseph Fauria, Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew have six catches for 93 yards. Despite the Lions calling for balance, the tight ends seem to be at the very least the third or fourth option on almost every play behind Calvin Johnson (13 receptions, 247 yards), Golden Tate (11 receptions, 150 yards) and either Bush or Bell (combined 15 catches for 111 yards).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have opened up a roster spot.

Ness
After promoting Nate Ness from the practice squad Saturday and playing him on special teams Sunday, the Lions released Ness on Monday, perhaps to open up room for another defensive back signing.

The Lions are in need of cornerbacks, having lost Bill Bentley for the season with a torn ACL and Nevin Lawson for an undetermined amount of time -- possibly the season -- after having surgery for dislocated toes.

The Lions cut Ness during the end of training camp and then brought him back to the practice squad as one of the two exceptions instituted by the NFL. He is eligible to return to Detroit's practice squad if the Lions choose to do that.

This leaves Detroit with at least one and maybe two spots open on the roster depending what happens with Lawson.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Nevin Lawson was prepared for anything, although the Detroit Lions' rookie cornerback didn’t want the "anything" to really happen like this.

Ever since the Lions drafted him in the fourth round, Lawson had mentally prepared himself to be a starter, or at least a contributor, during his rookie season. He did so even if everything about him, from his size to his skill to the somewhat small Utah State school he attended, screamed that he’d be a developmental project.

Lawson
That development needs to be quicker now. Bill Bentley’s season-ending injury means Lawson is about to play a whole lot.

“In my head, especially coming in as a rookie, it’s always to play and be the best that you can be,” Lawson said. “In my head, I always thought I could be a starter or eventually be a starter.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell committed to Lawson as his slot cornerback Friday, merely confirming what had appeared obvious from the time Bentley was put on injured reserve after he suffered a torn ACL against the New York Giants.

It was an immediate indoctrination to the NFL for Bentley, who was forced to match up against one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, Victor Cruz, when he was put into the game for 49 snaps against the Giants.

Considering the circumstances and that the Lions were planning on using him exclusively on special teams Monday night, he handled it well.

“We weren’t planning on him playing a whole bunch,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “… Nevin went in there and the thing we talk to our guys about is they are always one play away, and I think that’s a testament to what Tony [Oden] and Alan [Williams] are doing in the back end, teaching those guys.

“That a young guy who wasn’t supposed to play or people thought he wasn’t ready to play went in there and played well. They did a great job with him.”

The competent play came in pass coverage, too. Pro Football Focus charted Lawson as being targeted four times by New York quarterback Eli Manning, allowing three completions. One was a 20-yard reception to Cruz, according to PFF, but that was the only pass Cruz caught against the rookie.

Lawson, for his first go-round, will take that. He’ll also take the experience facing Cruz in his debut will give him both this week against Carolina and the rest of the season, where he’s likely to stay in the nickel role.

“It definitely helps,” Lawson said. “It’s game experience and going against good quarterbacks and good receivers like that definitely helps you to move forward into the next week, to help your preparation.

“[Such as] 'OK, I should do this better and I did this good, so I can keep on doing this.' It definitely helps.”

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions had a scrimmage Saturday during their yearly family day, dividing the roster into the first-team offense and second-team defense on one side and the second-team offense and first-team defense on the other. The first-team offense and defense had all the typical players save Calvin Johnson, who did not practice Saturday. That wasn’t surprising considering the Lions’ focus on keeping their star as fresh as possible. In their daily switch, LaAdrian Waddle lined up with the first team at right tackle and Corey Hilliard with the second team, but that competition between two players who will make the roster continues. Defensively, Tahir Whitehead received a lot of time at linebacker spelling Stephen Tulloch.
  • Big day for Eric Ebron, who caught a really long pass from Matthew Stafford and appeared to be more confident on the field than he has at any point this camp. It’s still going to be a learning process for him for a bit and there will certainly be mistakes, but Saturday was encouraging. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed comfortable with Ebron’s progress as he learns the multitude of spots he is expected to line up at this fall. Ebron’s play was one of the highlights for the Lions’ offense of the scrimmage considering his issues with drops.
  • The Lions had some issues snapping the ball when Dominic Raiola was not part of the scrimmage. Both Darren Keyton – playing with the first group – and Travis Swanson had bad snaps to quarterbacks, causing issues. In Swanson’s case, it led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by rookie Larry Webster, one of the better plays the defensive end has made during camp. While Swanson is still expected to be the backup center when everything shakes out a month from now, those issues amplified the importance of Raiola and his presence again this season.
  • Detroit’s cornerback situation behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis could get interesting. Jonte Green had his best day of camp thus far, breaking up two passes intended for receiver Ryan Broyles, who has not run with the first team much this camp. Chris Greenwood struggled again Saturday as well as those two potentially compete for one roster spot. Slay, Mathis, Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson and probably Cassius Vaughn appear to be ahead of both Green and Greenwood on the depth chart – although Lawson is going to mostly play nickel. Still a long way to go in this competition with not much settled in the first week.
  • Another good day for Detroit’s kickers as Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio made all their field goals attempted during the scrimmage, including a 50-yarder from Tavecchio that sailed through the uprights with ease. Unlike last season, when David Akers won the kicking job fairly easily, this season it seems like this could go on for a while. A wrinkle here could be something Caldwell said Saturday – that the team would consider using punter Sam Martin on extremely long field goal attempts. He compared it to his situation in Indianapolis, where Caldwell considered using punter Pat McAfee on long field goals. McAfee never attempted a field goal in a game, though. So something to consider as this competition progresses -- especially as Martin has an extremely impressive camp punting.

The Lions will take Sunday off before practicing again Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
Here are some day-after thoughts on how the Detroit Lions did in the 2014 draft, with some time to sleep, reflect and also see the entire board of what they were trying to do.
  • The best pick the Lions made is probably second-round linebacker Kyle Van Noy. He fills an absolute need and Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew all but said Saturday night that he’ll be a starter in the fall. That probably means Ashlee Palmer’s job is in definite trouble as the third linebacker. But Van Noy gives Detroit some defensive flexibility. In person, he is a lot bigger than I initially anticipated. He’s put together pretty well.
  • I panned the Eric Ebron pick throughout the draft -- not because Ebron won’t be a good player, but because of who the team passed on at the point. Detroit desperately needed secondary help entering the draft and still needs help leaving the draft. Frankly, they needed defensive help overall, but they took care of some of those other needs later on -- including Van Noy. But Ebron felt more like a luxury. That said, if he becomes more of a wide receiver, which is entirely possible, it could end up being a very strong pick.
  • Speaking of the secondary -- this was probably Mayhew’s biggest failing during the three-day period. Of the team’s eight picks, Detroit used only one on its back seven -- in the fourth round on cornerback Nevin Lawson. Mayhew lauded Lawson’s speed, but his height stands out. For months, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin explained how important tall cornerbacks were and in his history, he has often preferred players over 6-foot. Lawson is 5-foot-9. When asked about that, Mayhew said he was a short defensive back, so he can’t be prejudiced about that. Nine corners went off the board in the fourth round before Detroit picked Lawson -- and one wonders how many of those were higher up on the Lions' board.
  • Fourth-rounder Larry Webster could end up being a good one -- but it won’t be for a couple of years. He played at small-school Bloomsburg and has a good pedigree since his father played in the NFL. But even Mayhew acknowledged he is very raw at the position. He seems like an ideal candidate to learn for a year before being counted on for anything.
  • Drafting kicker Nate Freese in the seventh round likely means either John Potter or Giorgio Tavecchio probably won’t be long for Detroit. The other will compete with Freese for the Lions’ kicking duties.
  • Really like the addition of Caraun Reid. He is probably a bit of a developmental project as a defensive tackle coming from a small school, but he is an extremely intelligent and well-rounded person having gone to Princeton. As with many late-round guys, he’ll make the team because of special teams at first -- and that is where he might excel. He appears to have a knack for blocking kicks, as he did that seven times at Princeton.
  • T.J. Jones could end up being a surprise as well. He’s a receiver from Notre Dame who had 70 catches for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns last season -- and was targeted 109 times by Irish quarterbacks. He will likely put pressure on Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross in the slot for a roster spot and playing time.
  • Good chance third-round pick Travis Swanson won’t play much this season on offense, but he was drafted to be the team’s starting center of the future -- unless he ends up as a starting guard. It’s a fair bet he replaces either current center Dominic Raiola or left guard Rob Sims by 2015.
  • If Detroit can get some production out of its third-day players like it did out of the 2013 draft, the Lions’ draft will likely look a lot better in retrospect than it does right now. But that’s the thing with all of this. Until teams get on the field, this will all be speculation at best. A bit more informed speculation than before the draft, but we’ll see how some of these players fit.
  • The Lions’ undrafted free agents and tryout camp players won’t be official until at least Monday and things can change quickly, so until it is official, be wary. But former Missouri quarterback James Franklin tweeted he will be joining the Lions -- and since the Lions did not draft a quarterback this weekend, that seems like a pretty safe bet. Among the other players who tweeted they will be a part of either the Lions’ roster or rookie camp are Nebraska cornerback Mohammed Seisay, Appalachian State wide receiver Andrew Peacock, Kansas State offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas, Tennessee offensive lineman Alex Bullard and Oklahoma cornerback Gabe Lynn. The Detroit Free Press is reporting William and Mary safety Jerome Couplin, Robert Morris offensive lineman A.J. Dalton and Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Jacob Maxwell will also be undrafted free agents.
» NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A wrap-up of the Detroit Lions' draft.

Best move: Trading up five slots to take linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second round Friday night. He was clearly one of the top players on Detroit's board after the first day and a player the Lions front office has theoretically targeted for over a year after first seeing him while scouting Ezekiel Ansah in 2012. The Lions needed linebacker depth and someone who could be versatile enough to start right away. In Van Noy, they have a linebacker who can play every down and is both adept at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, as evidenced by the seven interceptions in his career.

Riskiest move: Waiting until the third day to take any secondary help. That the team ignored both cornerback and safety throughout the first three rounds was more shocking than surprising, considering two of the bigger needs entering the draft. That they focused two of those three picks over the first three days on offense is even more so. For a franchise that has placed a premium on winning now while Calvin Johnson is still in his prime, not bolstering an area where the team's cornerbacks have questions about ability, age or productivity is somewhat surprising. Detroit might have hoped a cornerback would fall to No. 133 in the fourth round, but none of the bigger ones did and the Lions ended up with Nevin Lawson, who is the opposite of the tall type of corner defensive coordinator Teryl Austin covets. Lawson was a three-year starter at Utah State but had more than one interception only once, when he had four picks as a senior.

Most surprising move: The Lions focusing on offense for two of the first three picks after the team spent a lot of their primary free-agent dollars on signing receiver Golden Tate and re-signing running back Joique Bell and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew continued to say throughout the draft that the team's defense and offense were not that far apart. He used the stat that the Lions were 15th in points allowed last season -- except Detroit lost a defensive end off of that team, Willie Young, whom it has yet to adequately replace and are still thin at safety. The Lions could have used another playmaker in the back end out of this draft, especially after passing on the secondary in the first day.

File it away: Mayhew said before the draft that a successful one would have three starters, three contributors and three developmental players. With eight picks, Detroit won't get there exactly through the draft, but if you were to project out, those starters in the 2014 draft -- likely most beyond 2014 -- are tight end Eric Ebron, Van Noy and kicker Nate Freese from Boston College. The contributors would be defensive tackle Caraun Reid (fifth round), wide receiver TJ Jones (sixth round) and center/guard Travis Swanson (third round). As far as developmental picks go, those could be Lawson (fourth round), defensive end Larry Webster (fourth round) and a likely undrafted free agent. Of course, as is with every draft, the true barometer of how this class fares will be beyond this season, if not longer.

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