Lions can't afford injuries in secondary
Chris Houston is expected to be Detroit's No. 1 corner, but is dealing with a groin injury. (Tom DiPace/CTR)
The Detroit Lions ran off a perfect 4-0 preseason before their perfectly imperfect 0-16 regular season in 2008, so perhaps no franchise in the NFL better knows how meaningless the exhibition slate is.
Still, the Lions did nothing to curtail growing expectations for this year with their preseason start vs. Cincinnati Friday.
Detroit scored in seven plays on its first drive (with Matthew Stafford going 4-for-4 and throwing a TD pass to Calvin Johnson), forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, scored again four plays later (Stafford to Nate Burleson), then picked off a pass on Cincinnati's first play from scrimmage. It was just the start of an emphatic 34-3 win.
There was no way to slow the Lions' hype train after that performance. Except with this news: Sunday, cornerback Chris Houston left practice with a groin injury; Monday, Eric Wright did the same.
Neither injury appears serious, but other than Stafford's health at quarterback, the Lions' main concern for 2011 is in the defensive secondary. Here's what SI's own Peter King had to say about that spot on the field after visiting Detroit's training camp last week:
I'll just say this about the Lions corners, who will probably be Nathan Vasher, Chris Houston and Wright at the top: They inspire no confidence in me.
That's probably the prevailing thought in Detroit as well. Houston, though, played well for the Lions last season -- which is why they were thrilled to bring him back -- and Wright could be in line for a bounce-back year after a disastrous 2010 with the Browns. Once Alphonso Smith's back from a broken foot, he'll fight Wright for that starting spot, with Vasher, Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald likely rounding out the top six.
It's not a terribly intimidating unit, but one that has viable talent. And it's worth pointing out that the Lions weren't that bad against the pass last year. Despite having to tweak the lineup in so many ways that you would have thought MacGyver was the defensive coordinator, Detroit finished smack-dab in the middle of the NFL rankings against the pass -- No. 16 at 218.6 yards per game.
That number could improve, if for no other reason than Detroit's front seven has the potential to dominate.
But the Lions are in that tricky position where they can contend only if everything goes according to plan. That means, among other things, keeping the top three or four guys in the secondary healthy, because even if Detroit's secondary has more depth this year, it's not top-tier depth. So for now, a tweaked groin here and a tender hamstring there isn't cause for major concern. Come September, though, the Lions will be praying that every defensive back they have can somehow stay on the field.