Lions’ Wendling becoming dependable option

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The “Next Man Up” theory runs throughout the NFL.

Injuries are inevitable and someone has to come in to fill those roles to keep a team from falling back.

The Detroit Lions have been weakened at safety because of Louis Delmas’ knee surgery and Amari Spievey’s on-again, off-again headaches.

John Wendling, known for his strong special-teams play during his five-year NFL career, is one of those players trying to prove he can take on a bigger role if needed.

Wendling has started both of the Lions’ preseason games. In Friday’s 27-12 victory at Baltimore, he stopped one drive by breaking up a pass deep in Detroit territory and then forced a punt another time with a sack.

He’s not flashy by any means, but he’s dependable.

It’s substance over style.

“John’s a solid pro,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s always in the right spots. He does a good job of executing the scheme. He does a good job of communicating. He’s a very good tackler. Probably more so this year, he’s made plays on the football in the air.”

Wendling, a sixth-round draft pick by Buffalo in 2007, is in his third year with the Lions. He was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl for the 2010 season because of his special-teams efforts.

While he doesn’t have the type of athleticism that most top NFL safeties possess, Wendling believes he is moving around a lot better this year.

He said that’s the biggest difference in his performance.

“More fluid in my hips, just moving like a defensive back,” he said.

Starting Wendling certainly isn’t on the priority list for the Lions. They need Delmas back as soon as possible, which probably isn’t going to be until the start of the regular season, at the earliest.

For now, Wendling is getting a chance and making the most of it.

“I’ve always worked as hard as I can to be in a position where I can be ready to go whether a safety goes down or whatever,” he said.

“It’s just taking advantage of every day. Just proving I can be a reliable back-up, starter, whatever they need.”

Told that he was called the NFL’s top reserve quarterback during a telecast on FOX, Shaun Hill said, “Was my mom the broadcaster?”

Actually it was Brian Billick, a former NFL coach.

“The thing that you hope the most with Shaun is that he never gets a chance to prove that,” Schwartz said.

As long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy, Hill will stay on the sideline.

“Shaun knows his role,” Schwartz said. “He can go in cold and heat up our offense.
“Everything you want in a back-up quarterback, Shaun provides. He doesn’t need a whole lot of practice reps. He can go in and execute a game plan and win a game for us.”

Running back Mikel Leshoure took another positive step Monday toward returning from a hamstring injury.

He practiced for the second straight day and also took part in team drills.

Leshoure said he still isn’t certain whether he will play in the team’s next preseason game Saturday at Oakland.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’m trying to get as much reps as I can. We’ll see.”

… Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who also didn’t play in the first two preseason games because of a knee injury, was back in uniform but participated in only the individual drills.
“That’s part of his progression back,” Schwartz said.

… Running back/return specialist Stefan Logan (ankle), receiver Titus Young (undisclosed excused absence) and defensive tackle Corey Williams (calf) were among those who didn’t practice Monday.