Post-draft honeymoon ends for Lions’ corners
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The honeymoon is going to end quickly for the three cornerbacks the Detroit Lions selected a few weeks ago in the NFL Draft.
Monday is the first day of the club’s OTA workouts, and they’ll be on the field matching up with the likes of superstar receiver Calvin Johnson.
The players won’t be in full pads, but it’s still going to be quite a bit different than going against some undrafted free agents as they did during last weekend’s rookie mini-camp.
“I’m coming out to compete,” third-round pick Bill Bentley said when asked about going up against Johnson. “I’ve got a job now. It’s all about coming out and showing the coaches what I can do so I can compete on Sundays.”
Bentley (Louisiana-Lafayette), fifth-rounder Chris Greenwood (Albion) and sixth-rounder Jonte Green (New Mexico State) all come from smaller schools, but they’re going to have the opportunity to try to help solve the Lions’ secondary woes.
Cornerback was widely considered a glaring position of need, but the Lions chose not to address the problem in the first two rounds.
Many observers questioned the choice of receiver Ryan Broyles in the second round. Not because Broyles isn’t a high-end talent despite still rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, but because the Lions have such concerns at cornerback.
Second-guessers naturally will be watching not only the careers of Bentley, Greenwood and Green to see if the Lions found a quality player, but also a few other cornerbacks who were passed over by Detroit. Such as:
*North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins, who dropped to the second round because of off-the-field concerns and was taken 39th overall by St. Louis.
* Vanderbilt’s Casey Hayward, who was taken eight picks after Broyles by division rival Green Bay.
*Central Florida’s Josh Robinson, who was drafted 12 picks after Broyles by another division rival, Minnesota.
* Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley, who was selected nine picks after Bentley by the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Should the Lions have taken a risk on Jenkins, a talented but troubled youngster, in the first round? Should they have gone for Hayward or Robinson, instead of an injured receiver, in the second round? Or should they have even picked Hosley instead of Bentley?
Or did they make the right moves to end up with higher-value picks each step of the way?
Only time will tell.
The answers might not be clear for years, or at least well into training camp and after some preseason games.
But some possible clues will start to come out in the next couple weeks when Bentley, Greenwood and Green find out if they can keep up with an elite NFL receiver like Johnson, not to mention the Lions’ next-best wideouts in Nate Burleson and Titus Young.
“All three of those guys (the cornerbacks) showed the athletic ability that got them drafted,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said during the rookie camp. “But they’ve all got a long way to go, just understanding the whole defense and where their help is and how they’re expected to cover and just doing things a little different than they did in college.”
The additions should help increase the competition at cornerback, where the Lions will have to replace starter Eric Wright after losing him in free agency to Tampa Bay.
Bentley, an undersized corner at 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, came in with the best reputation of the trio. Some draft analysts were projecting him as a second-round talent. The Lions got him 85th overall.
Bentley certainly opened some eyes when he intercepted Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden twice in last season’s opening game, containing receiver Justin Blackmon in the process. Weeden and Blackmon went on to both become first-round picks. Blackmon was No. 5 overall.
That performance against them was part of the reason Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said he went for Bentley.
Asked what he remembers about his big game, Bentley answered flatly, “The loss. The stats wasn’t nothing. I played hard but as a team we lost so it wasn’t a great game.”
Greenwood, meanwhile, remains arguably the most intriguing prospect in this group. He was only 160 pounds coming out of Detroit Martin Luther King High and ended up his career at Division III Albion College.
But Greenwood is 6-1, 193 pounds now and has run a sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, with an explosive 43-inch vertical jump.
“It takes about two seconds to know that he fits physically,” Schwartz said.
Green hasn’t received as much publicity as Bentley and Greenwood, but he’s 6-foot, 184 pounds and impressed the Lions with his “combination of size and speed and aggressiveness,” Schwartz said.
Regardless of which one it is – Bentley, Greenwood or Green – the Lions really need at least one of them to emerge and become a contributor, preferably this season.
If that doesn’t happen, and if one of those cornerbacks passed over does make it, the questions about picking a receiver in the second round aren’t going to go away.