NFL Nation: Chris Houston

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» 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.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Detroit Lions' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith Golden Tate flanking Calvin Johnson, the Detroit wide receiver depth has greatly improved.
Best move: The Lions desperately needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps and making Golden Tate the biggest priority of the free-agent period ended up being a smart move for the club. They signed a player who can complement Calvin Johnson as well as having some of the best hands in the league. As a bonus, he is a really competent blocker who plays above his size.

Riskiest move: Detroit opted to not go after an impact cornerback during free agency and then waited until the fourth round to draft one earlier this month. Why is this a risk? It means Detroit is trusting that one of its unproven cornerbacks (Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood) or one of the players who was inconsistent last season (Chris Houston, Darius Slay) will be prepared to make the jump or return to form in 2014.

Most surprising move: The Lions declined Nick Fairley’s fifth-year option for a seemingly baffling reason. Detroit wanted to use it to try to motivate the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle to improve his game. In doing so, they essentially could be letting him walk out the door. There was no downside for Detroit in picking up Fairley’s option. It is not a guaranteed option and considering the unresolved contract situation surrounding Ndamukong Suh, it could leave the Lions without either of their top two defensive tackles come 2015.

Everything focused on Stafford: One of the biggest themes of the offseason was finding help for quarterback Matthew Stafford, now entering his sixth season with Detroit. The Lions signed him a new target in Tate, drafted him a new tight end in Eric Ebron and brought back a familiar comfort player in Brandon Pettigrew. It hired a coaching staff full of quarterback experience, from head coach Jim Caldwell (worked with Peyton Manning) to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (worked with Drew Brees) to quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter (worked with Manning). In a league driven by quarterback play, the Lions placed a lot of their 2014 focus on making sure Stafford can do as well as he can.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have been spending part of the offseason trying to upgrade their secondary.

On Monday, the team added what could be another piece, signing cornerback Cassius Vaughn to a one-year deal according to the Detroit Free Press.

The 26-year-old Vaughn played college ball at Ole Miss and went undrafted in 2010. He spent two seasons with Denver before heading to Indianapolis for 2012 and 2013.

He played in every game for the Colts over the past two seasons and has played in 54 games in his NFL career, making 116 tackles and intercepting five passes. He has also recovered four fumbles in his career.

Vaughn adds to a large group of cornerbacks already on the roster, including veteran Chris Houston and younger players Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. The Lions are also expected to add a cornerback during May's NFL draft, perhaps even with a first round selection.
DETROIT -- Throughout the first week of free agency, the Detroit Lions continued to focus on offense, the part of the game the team is most known for and the part of the game that has produced the more gaudy numbers for the team in recent years.

The offensive power is strong. The offensive power added receiver Golden Tate, retained tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued to stockpile players attempting to score.

Ihedigbo
But what about defense? The other side, the side that helped Seattle win a Super Bowl last season. The side of the ball where Detroit has noticeably struggled in recent seasons despite the drafting of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah in the first round of three of the past four drafts.

A lot of focus is on the Lions’ sub-par pass defense -- the cornerbacks struggled yet again in 2013 -- but Lions president Tom Lewand looks at pass defense as encompassing everyone on the defense.

“When you’re talking about pass defense, you’re not just talking about defensive backs,” Lewand said Monday at the MGM Grand. “I think you have to talk about everybody on the defense, because they all defend the pass.

“We built our team up front, and I won’t change a thing about that. Giving the quarterback a very short time to throw the ball, create a lot of pressure.”

Yet the Lions have not made any real impact moves defensively during free agency. They signed two defensive linemen for depth -- Vaughn Martin and Darryl Tapp -- and let a productive defensive end, Willie Young, leave for Chicago.

In the secondary, the Lions have only visited with one free agent, safety James Ihedigbo, and he left without signing a contract. That might happen, but until it does, that leaves Detroit without any impact changes in the defensive backfield. The most noticeable move they have made was bringing in Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a potential first-round pick, for a visit Monday.

But the Lions say they are trying to, and have in the past, made attempts to improve their defense.

“Are we looking at ways to strengthen our team and our defense, absolutely,” Lewand said. “I think we have to do that. We lost Louis Delmas to the Miami Dolphins, and we’ve been looking at ways to add to our secondary.

“I think we’ve done that the last few years, whether it’s drafting a number of defensive backs in the middle rounds, in the second round last year with Darius Slay, and we see a lot of those young corners developing.”

It is possible Detroit could add to that, too. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said at his introductory news conference that he could never have enough cornerbacks. He has a lot of young ones, but few proven ones other than Chris Houston, who had an inconsistent 2013.

So it is still an area the team could draft, both at corner and safety, in May as the Lions search for whatever way possible to improve their team.

Corner a concern for the Lions

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
12:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The joke starts something like this. It is the first round of an NFL draft. The Detroit Lions, again, have a high selection. So of course, the team will take a receiver.

Never mind the team has not taken a wide receiver in the first round since Calvin Johnson in 2007. This is the way Detroit is viewed when it comes to the draft even if it is an outdated notion. And while receiver is a need in May's draft and the Lions may end up going there in the first round, there is a bigger concern with the Lions.

The team still has issues finding capable guys to defend them.

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
AP Photo/Dave MartinDarius Slay, whom the Lions selected in the second round last year, had an up-and-down rookie season at cornerback.
The Lions are once again looking for a cornerback in May's NFL draft, potentially as a first-round selection. While the team hasn't used a first-round pick on a corner since 1998, when the team drafted Terry Fair at No. 20, it could happen in May.

This has to be part of the reason Detroit went with Teryl Austin as its new defensive coordinator. Austin coached defensive backs for the majority of his career. And new coach Jim Caldwell believes defensive backs -- and the way they see the field -- are similar to quarterbacks.

For defensive backs, everything happens in front of them and they are often the last line of protection against big plays, so they see everything. With cornerbacks, Austin has a specific type he is looking for.

"You have to try and get, if you can, a bigger cornerback," Austin said. "A guy that can match up with the big receivers, a guy who has some physical toughness to him that's not afraid to tackle and a guy that has great ball skills.

"I think because of the amount of throwing in the game, if you have a guy that can't intercept the ball, teams will attack him because they know he won't intercept it. The best he's going to do is maybe knock it down. But if you have a guy that can intercept the ball and change the game, I think that's what you want."

This has been a particular problem in Detroit. Since 2001, the Lions are tied for second-to-worst in the NFL with interceptions by defensive backs with 138.

Austin's prototype for cornerbacks has always been taller equals better. In his three years in Baltimore and then his time in Arizona before that, he only had one cornerback shorter than 6-feet tall -- Lardarius Webb. Webb, though, was the exception for Austin.

As the Lions approach corners in this draft, the potential top target -- Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert -- fits those criteria. He is a hair over 6-feet at 6-foot 1/4 and has long arms and the capability to make big plays. Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State (5-foot-11 3/4), Bradley Roby from Ohio State (5-11 1/8), Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy (6-0) and Marcus Roberson (5-11 1/2) are other corners who could get early looks from the Lions as they all possess good hands and at least decent size.

But the Lions have spent multiple picks on cornerbacks since 2010 with differing levels of success. Having good corners has been an issue for Detroit for over a decade and no matter how the team has tried to fix the problem, it hasn't worked out too well. Amari Spievey, the Iowa cornerback the team drafted in the third round in 2010, ended up at safety and is no longer with the team.

Bill Bentley, the team's third-round pick in 2012, has been inconsistent. Chris Greenwood, the team's fifth-round pick that year, barely played. Jonte Green, the team's sixth-round pick in 2012, played more as a rookie than he did in 2013.

Last season's cornerback selection, second-rounder Darius Slay, won the starting job out of camp but lost it two games into the season to Rashean Mathis. By the end of the year, Slay showed signs of progress, in part due to the veteran who replaced him.

"He did it the right way where he'll be able to take care of his family and he took care of his body and stuff he just tells me, how to stay in the league long, has always helped out," Slay said toward the end of the 2013 season. "From a rookie standpoint, he's probably the best guy I've ever been around to continue to help pushing me forward."

Mathis helped teach Slay -- and some of the other cornerbacks -- about preparation and being a pro, something those cornerbacks clung to, particularly Slay. Austin seemed particularly encouraged by the development of Slay, while saying he has a lot of "growing pains," he sees potential for a good corner in the future. Some of that has to do with Mathis, and one of the underrated parts of his signing was the work he did with them.

There is no guarantee he will return due to Detroit's cap issues, Mathis' age and his status as an unrestricted free agent next month.

This leads to the other issues Detroit has had with corners -- and why the position is again a priority.

"In the NFL," Austin said. "You can't have enough corners."

The problem for the Lions over the past decade is finding enough good enough corners at all. Dre Bly was the team's last-best free agent cornerback signing, and that was in 2003.

Chris Houston came to Detroit after the 2009 season, but after three good seasons, his production dipped in 2013 and at one point he was benched. Drayton Florence came in for one season in 2012 but was mostly injured and had a fairly unproductive season.

Eric Wright, one of the better corners to sign with Detroit in free agency, had a decent 2011 season but left for Tampa Bay following the year.

So while receiver may attract the attention and some of the drafting scorn, paying attention to what Detroit does with the guys who defend those opposing receivers could be one of the keys to the Lions' hopes in 2014.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Lions

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
3:00
PM ET
There are two areas of major need for the Detroit Lions entering the 2014 draft -- wide receiver and cornerback -- and the team will have to take care of remedying one of those issues in the first round this May.

Colleague Mel Kiper Jr. has the Lions Insider taking Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the No. 10 pick in his first mock draft of the year, potentially solving at least one of Detroit’s issues.

Receiver Sammy Watkins from Clemson would be the obvious choice for Detroit, but the chances of him still lingering at the No. 10 pick -- especially when he might be the most talented player in the draft, period -- is unlikely. So after Watkins, the Lions need to weigh draft depth and who might be available to them in the second round as much as the first.

And that’s where taking a cornerback would be the potential smart choice here, especially if there is no corner in free agency that they are able to land. That could be difficult considering the Lions are in a tough salary cap spot right now.

So Kiper has the Lions taking Gilbert in the hopes that he’ll be a good cornerback to pair with last year’s second-round selection, Darius Slay, in the future.

“Has put together a great season after a subpar 2012,” Kiper wrote in his initial analysis of Gilbert. “Has short-area quickness to adjust to routes and the open-field speed to run with (or past) any receiver. Has the size to jam at the line and can then flip his hips and run; he rarely allows much separation. Good ball skills and hands, evident both in coverage and the return game. Squarely back into the mid-first-round mix.”

Gilbert had 42 tackles and seven interceptions last season. He’s also a 6-foot corner and weighs 200 pounds, which is decent size on the outside.

He would be brought in to try to improve a defense -- likely with a new defensive coordinator -- that was 23rd against the pass last season (246.88 yards per game) and 19th in yards per pass attempt (6.91).

Should Detroit draft Gilbert, the question is: What happens to the rest of the Lions cornerbacks? Chris Houston signed a five-year deal before last season, but had a very inconsistent 2013 and ended up being the Lions’ second cornerback instead of the No. 1 corner they had hoped.

Detroit’s top corner last season, Rashean Mathis, is an unrestricted free agent and made 47 tackles last season. He is 33 years old, but told ESPN.com he intends to try to play for one or two more seasons after he showed he was healthy this year.

The Lions also have a plethora of other young cornerbacks besides Slay: nickel Bill Bentley and reserves Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. All have shown potential but none have shown they could be a consistent starter.

So if the Lions do select a cornerback in the first round, it could mean one or two of the cornerbacks from last season could be playing somewhere else in 2014.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 21
Preseason Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: The offensive line was supposed to be one of the biggest question marks for the Lions this season with three new starters and a center who was supposed to be on the tail end of his career. Instead, the group ended up being one of the top units in the NFL. Larry Warford, a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, looks to be an anchor at right guard for the next decade. Center Dominic Raiola had arguably his best season and the Lions discovered another rookie, undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle, as a consistent starter at right tackle. Four of the five -- all but Raiola -- are under contract for next season. Raiola has expressed a desire to return if possible.

Biggest disappointment: At one point, Detroit was 6-3 and looked to be in control of the NFC North and a playoff berth. Then everything unraveled. The Lions lost five of their next six to fall out of playoff contention. In each of those losses, Detroit had three or more turnovers. Matthew Stafford, who appeared in the first half of the season to be moving closer to becoming an elite quarterback, regressed. Reggie Bush, brought in as a high-profile free agent in the offseason, had issues with fumbles. Calvin Johnson had the most drops in a season in his career. Almost everything imploded on the Lions, who will watch the playoffs from home again this year.

Biggest need: In the draft, the Lions need to look at a speedy wide receiver on the outside to complement Johnson along with finding a young, shutdown cornerback early on to play alongside Darius Slay, last season’s second-round draft pick. Depending on whether tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Raiola return, those are two other positions to look at, and the Lions could also use depth at linebacker. Perhaps the biggest need of all is a guru to work with Stafford to help fix his mechanical issues and decision making. Whether that person is brought on staff as a dedicated quarterback coach or an outside influence like Steve Clarkson or George Whitfield Jr., Stafford could use some specialized refresher courses at least.

Team MVP: Johnson was the team's best player, and he showed his value when he was out, as the Detroit offense couldn’t move the ball well in games he missed. But the most valuable Lions player this season was linebacker DeAndre Levy. He had career highs in tackles, solo tackles and interceptions this season. But to me, the image of him hobbling out of the locker room after the Lions’ 23-20 loss to the Giants in Week 16, after he legitimately gave every piece of himself to his team only to lose, showed his value. Levy doesn’t say much, but he was the top player on the Lions' defense and consistently made plays for Detroit all season long.

Lions without Johnson, three corners

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
12:00
PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions made the correct call.

Johnson
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is among the seven players inactive for the Lions, ending his season with 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. The receptions and yards are his lowest totals since the 2010 season.

His 12 touchdowns more than doubled the five he had a season ago.

In Johnson's place, the Lions will start receiver Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree has 16 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns this season, split between Tampa Bay and Detroit.

No Johnson is only part of Detroit's issues Sunday. Three of top five Lions cornerbacks are out as Chris Houston, Bill Bentley and Jonte Green are all inactive. Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay, who is coming off a torn meniscus, will start and Chris Greenwood, who played his first NFL game earlier this month, will be the top backup.

Also inactive for Detroit is its starting right tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, and he'll be replaced by Jason Fox. Dylan Gandy is the other inactive on the offensive line. Guard Rodney Austin will be active for the first time in his career.

And this also ends Kellen Moore's second season with the Lions -- and second season where he has yet to play in a game.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Calvin Johnson missed practice for the third straight day for the Detroit Lions, lending credence to the theory he won't play in Sunday's season finale against Minnesota.

He was one of seven Lions to miss the final practice of the season, joining linebacker DeAndre Levy, cornerbacks Jonte Green and Bill Bentley, safety Louis Delmas, defensive lineman Israel Idonije and offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle.

Offensive lineman Dylan Gandy returned to practice, as did cornerback Chris Houston and safety John Wendling.

Seven miss practice for the Lions

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
4:20
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were without four starters at practice Thursday, including star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who continues to battle knee problems.

Also missing were cornerbacks Bill Bentley (concussion) and Chris Houston (toe/illness), offensive linemen Dylan Gandy (illness) and LaAdrian Waddle (ankle), safety John Wendling (ankle) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (foot).

Five players were limited in practice: running back Joique Bell (knee), cornerbacks Jonte Green (shoulder) and Darius Slay (knee), safety Louis Delmas (knee) and defensive end Israel Idonije (knee).

Green is the only new name on the injury report; he was spotted with a giant bag of ice on his shoulder following practice.
DETROIT -- Detroit may have star receiver Calvin Johnson available for Sunday's game against the New York Giants, but the Lions will be without both their starting cornerbacks.

Rashean Mathis (illness) and Chris Houston (toe) are both inactive for Detroit on Sunday, leaving the Lions extremely short at corner. Bill Bentley, the team's usual nickel back, and Jonte Green will be the presumed starters at corner.

Chris Greenwood is the team's top reserve and Darius Slay, who was listed as doubtful heading into the game as he recovers from a torn meniscus in his right knee, is also active.

The Lions' other inactives are expected: quarterback Kellen Moore; running back Mikel Leshoure; offensive guards Leroy Harris and Rodney Austin and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who was ruled out Friday.
DETROIT -- His experience is minimal with 20 defensive snaps this season. And now, in the biggest game of the season for the Detroit Lions, on national television against the Baltimore Ravens, one of the starting cornerbacks will be Jonte Green.

Green was inactive for some games earlier this season and was essentially the last option for the Lions at cornerback when he was active. He will now have to cover Marlon Brown and be effective in his role.

Veteran Rashean Mathis is expected to line up opposite Baltimore's top target, Torrey Smith.

Green landed in this role due to injuries to starter Chris Houston and top reserve Darius Slay, both of whom are inactive for the Lions on Monday night. Detroit now has Mathis, Green, Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood, who has never played an NFL game, as its active corners.

The Lions' other inactives were as expected as well: quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Mikel Leshoure, guard Leroy Harris, tackle Jason Fox and guard Rodney Austin.
In many ways, Monday night on national television could have looked a lot different for the Detroit Lions. There could have been a chance the Lions could have clinched the division against the Baltimore Ravens. But with everything set up well for Detroit in the division, the Lions could not close it out.

They let the Chicago Bears hang around. Let the Green Bay Packers hang around. So now the Lions are in this other situation: Win to hold on to the lead in the division.

"It's there for the taking, but we have to go out and take it," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "That starts with the Ravens on Monday night. Last time we left Ford Field, we were feeling really good about ourselves with the win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving.

"We have to get that feeling back. We know our crowd will make a difference for us. I think you'll see that from our players."

Detroit has to. Its season might depend on it. So how do the Lions accomplish this? Here are the four keys.

Deal with the pressure: The Lions spent all week saying essentially different variations of the playoffs are starting now. Well, Detroit got what it wanted. With Chicago winning on the road at Cleveland, the Lions need to beat Baltimore to keep pace with the Bears in the NFC North and hold on to a playoff spot for the time being. And if the Lions lose Monday, then they drop to third in the division.

This is the way it is going to be for Detroit the rest of the season and the Lions, if they are going to be a playoff team like they say they want to be, have to be able to deal with it. The Lions have vacillated between being very good and very bad in games like this over the course of this season.

Pressure Flacco: Joe Flacco likes to find receivers downfield when he can and is eighth in the NFL in air yards per attempt. Considering Detroit's depleted cornerback situation -- it'd be surprising if Chris Houston or Darius Slay played Monday night -- the Lions front four needs to be able to reach Flacco at the rate they reached Matt Flynn on Thanksgiving in order to cause disruptions in the passing game. Detroit did this to Flynn by taking away his first read, but the Lions also had a healthy-enough secondary then. They don't now, so Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young need to get to Flacco early.

Stop the turnovers: This is becoming a weekly topic, but considering the Lions' lack of margin for error both in games and in the season at this point, they need to have a game where they are not careless with the ball. Detroit hasn't had a game without a turnover since facing Cincinnati in October and haven't had a game with less than three turnovers since the win over Chicago in Week 10.

Baltimore has only picked off nine passes this season, so the Ravens aren't exactly an opportunistic defense. Detroit can't have that switch on Monday night.

Give help on the outside: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and Schwartz both expressed confidence in Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, the two likely candidates to line up opposite Rashean Mathis at cornerback. The Lions have to trust Mathis will be able to hang with Torrey Smith, especially since Green or Greenwood might need help with Marlon Brown (36 catches, 412 yards, six touchdowns) on the other side. Bill Bentley or Don Carey will also have a difficult assignment with speedster Jacoby Jones in the slot, but the matchup between Green/Greenwood and Brown could be a big factor Monday.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider