Lions Insider: Bly returns as Uncle Dre

Allen Park — Dre Bly is getting the blend of respect and good-natured barbs that come with being a valuable old hand on a football team.

Bly enjoys both in his second tour with the Lions.

Bly’s teammates respect what he accomplished playing cornerback in his first 11 NFL seasons. Bly’s 43 career interceptions are fourth most among all players since 1999, the year he entered the NFL as a second-round draft pick with the St. Louis Rams.

The barbs and digs, all in good fun, come simply because the 33-year-old Bly has landed in a group of relative youngsters.

“It’s great having Uncle Dre around,” cornerback Jonathan Wade said after a recent practice, smiling as he inserted a gentle needle. “He’s probably getting annoyed with me asking him questions.

“He’s been places where I want to go.”

Bly has been to two Super Bowls with the Rams and two Pro Bowls with the Lions, and he has had his share of highs and lows.

One personal low point was being traded to Denver after the 2006 season, his fourth in Detroit, because he didn’t fit in former head coach Rod Marinelli’s system.

Another was the criticism he took from some fans and media for putting the blame on Joey Harrington when Steve Mariucci was fired as head coach during the 2005 season.

That never was a negative issue in the Lions’ locker room. Bly only said what many of his teammates were thinking.

Bly had no second thoughts about returning to the Lions when general manager Martin Mayhew offered him a chance to sign. Bly signed a two-year contract.

The defensive backfield is being renovated, and Bly should help as either a starting cornerback or at nickel back.

Bly had kept in touch with former teammates such as Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola, and Bly liked what he heard about coach Jim Schwartz and his staff.

Rebuilding program No. 153 might be the real thing.

“I know how strong a football town it is,” Bly said. “For everything I was hearing about coach Schwartz, it was a new attitude. Things were different.

“I look at it as an opportunity to come back and play and be a part of something good, especially where I played my best ball.”

Great hands are Bly’s defining quality as a player. There aren’t many players at any position with better hands.

It seems like he could palm a greased bowling ball with one hand and juggle chainsaws with the other. He’s that sure-handed.

“That’s one of my assets,” he said. “I never said I was the fastest. I never said I was the best tackler. The asset I bring to the field is intercepting balls and stripping the football.

“That’s what I’ve always done. That’s what I plan on doing.”

Bly’s experience playing different schemes for five teams — Rams, Lions, Broncos, 49ers and Lions again — makes him a valuable resource for young cornerbacks such as Wade.

Bly can provide a rock of stability in a unit that is undergoing a dramatic — and necessary — transformation. Safety Louis Delmas is the only returning starter from last year who is assured of starting again. And Delmas has not participated in training camp because of a groin injury.

Mayhew had a healthy respect for Bly’s ability from his first tour with the Lions. Mayhew liked Bly’s play-making ability and once said he regretted seeing Bly leave after the 2006 season because he didn’t fit the defensive scheme.

At every stop in his career, Bly has been a big-play performer.

Bly was a part-time starter on two Rams Super Bowl teams. As a rookie in 1999, Bly had three interceptions and a TD on the team that beat the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

On the 2001 Rams, Bly had six picks — returning two for TDs — on the team that lost to the Patriots, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Bly has seen just about everything an offense can throw — or run, for that matter — at a defense.

“There’s a value to having experience at cornerback,” Schwartz said. “It’s just understanding offenses and how they’re going to attack.

“Dre’s an experienced guy. He’s been through a lot. He’s played in different schemes.

“It isn’t how fast you are. It’s how well you cover. There’s a lot of different ways to skin the cat.”

Bly was a co-captain and respected veteran in his first tour with the Lions, from 2003-06. That hasn’t changed.

Bly smiled at the thought of Wade, 26 and seven years younger, calling him Uncle Dre.

“I guess I can look at it as a compliment,” Bly said. “We play this game to succeed, but you want to leave a good name for yourself.

“Even when I left, I still had a lot of friends here — Dom, Backus. I just let them know I’m still with them. When they take a hit, I take a hit.

“Even though it didn’t end the way it was supposed to, I still had a relationship with a lot of these guys. I’m back. I feel like I’m family.”

Like an uncle.
Aug. 9, 2010