Cassius Vaughn could be sleeper in Lions' cornerback competition

The Lions are desperate for help at cornerback, especially with Chris Houston out of the picture. Cassius Vaughn, who was signed as a free agent, could be the sleeper in this year's competition.

Cassius Vaughn had three interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 16 games (four starts) last season for the Colts.

Mark J. Rebilas

The Detroit Lions' defense was noticeably more vocal during the offseason practices that concluded last week. One of the reasons for that has been the addition of cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who was signed as a free agent after spending the last two years with Indianapolis.

If you can't see Vaughn, you can probably hear him.

"He's a guy that loves to play and he loves to tell you about it once in a while as he's playing," coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's working extremely hard to win a spot on this team. He does bring some energy."

Vaughn could be the sleeper in this year's competition at cornerback, much like Rashean Mathis last season.

Darius Slay, a second-round draft pick a year ago, and Mathis are currently projected as the starting cornerbacks with Chris Houston out of the picture.

The pressure is on both Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, who will be entering their third season since being drafted by the Lions. It's time for them to prove whether they are legitimate NFL players.

Bill Bentley likely will return to his role as the nickel back, a fifth defensive back to cover the slot receiver. Rookie Nevin Lawson, a fourth-round pick this year, also should be in the mix.

But other than Mathis, none of those players has produced at the NFL level to this point like Vaughn.

Vaughn had three interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 16 games (four starts) last season for the Colts.

The Lions' cornerbacks a year ago combined for just two interceptions (both by Houston), no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries.

"I just try to bring energy to what I like to do," Vaughn said. "I like the defense. I like the whole man-to-man scheme.

"I feel like I'm a playmaker on the back end. Any chance I get to get my hands on the ball, any time I can try to make a play, I'm going to celebrate with my team, I'm going to celebrate with myself."

Vaughn, 26, came to the right place looking for a job. Mathis was a somewhat ho-hum addition in the middle of training camp last August and went on to become the team's most reliable cornerback by season's end.

That's how desperate the Lions are for help at the position, especially now without Houston, who was supposed to be the No. 1 cornerback for the next couple years.

"Coming here is a great opportunity for me," Vaughn said. "It's a clean slate for everybody, even myself. You've just got to make sure you're the best guy on the field at all times no matter what you're doing."

Vaughn (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) began his career with the Denver Broncos, who signed him as an undrafted player coming out of Mississippi in 2010.

He played in 22 games over two seasons before getting traded to Indianapolis.

That time in Denver, however, was extremely valuable to Vaughn because 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey became his mentor. Bailey is now with New Orleans after a decade with the Broncos.

"I was trained by one of the best -- to me, the best corner ever, and that was Champ Bailey," Vaughn said. "I was young, I was undrafted. He took me under his wing and just made everything easier, showed me how to do a lot of things. He showed me the ins and outs of being a cornerback.

"I still talk to him to this day. He's one of the guys I look to if I have a question. He's like a big brother. He showed me a lot of stuff. I appreciate it. It made me grow as a man and a person, on and off the field."

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