(This is the third in a series examining the Detroit Lions’ highly scrutinized secondary.)
Alphonso Smith heard the trade rumors. He tried to ignore them.
The report first surfaced in late February from the NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora, who said that the Lions are “willing to move” Smith and “have shopped him to at least one team.”
In his two years with Detroit, Smith leads the team in interceptions, with eight. But he also has been called out for his undisciplined nature at cornerback.
He has a tendency to dismiss the game plan in order to go for the big play.
“Please forgive my frankness…To be blunt with you, I really didn’t care,” Smith said of the trade talk. “It didn’t happen. It still may happen. You never know.
“I don’t care about reports or rumors. Only thing I can focus on is I’m a Detroit Lion and I’m a Detroit Lion until I’m not.
“I want to be here. I’ve grown a lot with the scheme and the players and the things that the coaches want. But that decision is way above my pay grade. My job is to come in and play, not deal in personnel or whether I’m getting traded or not.
“Really don’t care.”
Smith, a second-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 2009, was acquired shortly before the season two years ago in a trade for tight end Dan Gronkowski.
In some ways, Smith, 26, appears to be coming up to a potential turning-point season in his career. Which way is he going to go?
This is the final year of his contract. He’s in the mix to replace starting cornerback Eric Wright, who signed a free-agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But with the addition of three young corners through the draft, Smith (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) also could be the odd-man out if he doesn’t show more consistency.
There’s a time to gamble for one of those interceptions, and there’s a time to be solid and play within the system.
“It’s a contract year for me,” Smith said. “I’m in a position where I have to battle for a starting spot or even a spot on the team. I’ve gotten a little faster, a little smarter, a little muscle.
“I believe in my ability. I believe in what I’ve shown the last two years when I’ve played. I’m not too worried about that.”
General manager Martin Mayhew is observing and evaluating every move, as is the coaching staff.
During offseason workouts, it was Aaron Berry filling the void at the starting right cornerback, not Smith.
And it was free-agent acquisition Jacob Lacey who took over at the nickel when the Lions went with a fifth defensive back, not Smith.
Mayhew has been trying to size up the competition before making any more decisions in the secondary.
“There’s some guys who are coming back who really have an opportunity to step up for us,” Mayhew said. “Alphonso Smith comes to mind…those guys that are relatively young but still have some upside.
“I’m watching that group closely. We’ll see if we need to make a move there or not.”
Injuries limited Smith to 11 games last season. His only start came in the regular-season finale, a complete defensive meltdown in which Green Bay Packers backup quarterback, Matt Flynn passed for 480 yards and six touchdowns.
Through the ups and downs, Smith defends his style and performance.
“The last time I’ve been in a position where I’ve been chasing a receiver is Thanksgiving two years ago,” Smith said, referring to his dreadful performance against the New England Patriots that most Lions’ fans will never forget.
“One of the ways I try to separate myself is making plays. As I look around, if you talk about playmakers in the secondary, I’ll probably be the first on that list. That’s how I separate myself.
“Do my job. Don’t give up any big ones and make plays when it’s there.”
If he lives up to his word, those trade rumors will be dismissed. If not, they could become reality.