Lacey brings tackling force to Lions secondary
(This is the first in a series examining the Detroit Lions’ highly scrutinized secondary.)
Ideally, the Detroit Lions would have signed the top free-agent cornerback available this offseason to help replace Eric Wright and upgrade their secondary.
But in a salary-cap world, there's only so much cash to go around on a roster that requires lucrative paydays for the likes of superstars such as Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh.
So the Lions had to settle for Jacob Lacey, an unheralded defensive back who wasn't even drafted when he came out of Oklahoma State in 2009.
Lacey spent the past three years with the Indianapolis Colts and made 27 starts. He signed a one-year deal as a free agent with Detroit in March.
If you're a cornerback looking for a new job, there's no better opportunity these days than with the Lions, right? Lacey joins a secondary that was mostly blamed for the defense allowing 45 points in each of its final two games, including a playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.
"I saw a team on the rise, a team with a great quarterback and leadership, a defense that has a great D-line and a lot of team chemistry," Lacey said of joining the Lions. "These guys have been to the bottom and resurrected themselves. I think they're headed in the right direction. I wanted to be a part of that."
Lacey has been on the other end of another franchise transformation. That one was a little painful to experience at the end.
During Lacey's rookie year in 2009, when he made 85 tackles, three interceptions and scored a touchdown, the Colts finished 14-2 and went to the Super Bowl. Last year was just the opposite — a 2-14 finish for a team that totally collapsed without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.
"It's hard, man," Lacey said. "Going from winning 14 games straight my rookie year and playing in the Super Bowl (a loss to New Orleans) to losing 10 games straight my last year. It was definitely a transition there.
"I think, most of all, it showed me how difficult it is to play in the NFL and how things change every year. Every game is different.
"You've got to be even-keeled. You've got to maintain a finer focus when things aren't going as they were planned."
Lacey is listed at 5-foot-10, 177 pounds, but he said last week that he actually weighs 184.
During the Lions' recent minicamp, Lacey was getting reps as the nickel, a fifth defensive back in passing situations.
"I like the nickel position," he said. "It gives me a chance to get inside, to blitz some, to drop a little bit (in coverage), to get my eyes on the quarterback, move and try to make some plays underneath."
Lacey made five interceptions and 221 combined tackles while playing in 43 games the past three seasons. He also scored two touchdowns.
Before offering a contract, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew asked Lacey to identify what he does best on the field.
Lacey's response: "Tackle."
Mayhew was impressed by the answer because most cornerbacks are going to brag about their cover skills.
"I like the way the guy plays," Mayhew said. "He started in big games and made big plays in big situations."
With Wright going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent, the Lions have a job open at right cornerback. It's the only position on both offense and defense in which last year's starter isn't returning from a 10-win team.
At this point, often-injured Aaron Berry, entering his third year, is being penciled in as Wright's replacement. Lacey is hoping to be in the mix, along with fourth-year player Alphonso Smith and possibly third-round draft pick Bill Bentley.
It's going to make for an ongoing battle when training camp opens in late July.
"I'm going to take every day as competition," Lacey said. "Nobody wants to play under anybody. It's going to bring out the best in us."