Friday’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns showed off part of the Detroit Lions’ retooled secondary, with two of the young draft picks showing what they have learned thus far in camp. While one defensive rookie in particular looked impressive, the other showed he has some work to do.
Lets get this out of the way in the beginning: it is clear Bill Bentley has a tremendous amount of talent and is the front-runner for the right cornerback position on this roster. He appears to have a nose for the football and the ball skills required to succeed, even though he dropped what would have been an almost certain pick-six on Friday. Yet like many of the other corners, he seemed to excel more in zone than he did in man.
It looked as if both plays on the ball came with Bentley playing from a zone position. He was playing in a shallow middle zone when he made his one interception. As Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden released the ball to the underneath receiver, Bentley used his speed to jump the route and take the ball away. Earlier in the game, on his other near interception, Bentley drifted back into what looked like another low zone. He used the same move as he did later and moves up to jump the curl route as Weeden releases the ball.
Meanwhile, on one of the first plays Bentley faced Friday evening, he was matched up one-on-one with the outside receiver. As the ball was snapped, the receiver blew passed Bentley and Weeden was able to toss the ball up and over Bentley for a 10-to-15 yard completion. It was a good play by Weeden, but keeping in mind Bentley was also absolutely torched by Titus Young in practice this week, it is clear his man coverage skills are not full developed yet.
Then you have Jonte Green, the other rookie corner everyone has forgotten about. Lets just say it isn’t a good sign when the corner from a Division-III school currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list is generating more buzz than him. Green had some playing time last Friday and it was not good. He was beat deep on a throw and made anything but an attractive tackle after the fact. He is a having a rough time and really looks as if he is having a hard time covering receivers, as well as catching the ball, dropping a clear interception in camp this week.
Coming out of little followed New Mexico State, Green was praised by Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham for his speed and play making ability early on in camp. It seems as if those attributes have fallen by the wayside lately though. It could be a case of a rookie just having a lot to deal with and trying to keep his head above water, the most likely reason behind his lackluster play lately, or he has some limitations he will need to overcome.
Friday is a new opportunity for both Bentley and Green. They had a chance to get another week of camp under their belts and had some live game film to study. This weeks opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, are a team more focused on the run, but have shown they can throw the rock the last few years. Particularly for Bentley, it will be an opportunity for him to show Lions coaches he can keep with and cover top-tier receivers.
As with everything in preseason though, everyone needs to remember what we see in preseason games may not be the full representation of a player. Offenses and defenses tend to come in and run a certain set of plays or focus on a certain technique. Thus, don’t write off a player just because of their performance in a game, but instead look at what their strengths and weaknesses are in certain areas, because the coaching staff will be doing the same thing.