Last ifseason, there was quite the shakeup going on in the defensive secondary. This year, if possible, there is even more change going on!
Safeties played a huge role in the Lions' winless season last year. But enough about Dan Orlovsky. Lets talk about the defensive secondary for the Lions -- in particular today Safety. This topic has seen a fair amount of discussion due to the trade of Gerald Alexander, and so I decided to start here for my positional overviews.
Remember, as a land bound individual I don't have my sea legs, so who knows how much this (and other) position groupings will change under us as the ifseason progresses...
Lets take a look first at the current depth chart:
# Player Ht Wt Age Yrs College
43 Battle, Tra 5-11 173 24 1 Georgia
27 Bullocks, Daniel 6-0 212 25 4 Nebraska
26 Delmas, Louis 5-11 202 22 R Western Michigan
35 Hicks, LaMarcus 6-0 189 24 3 Iowa State
40 Manuel, Marquand 6-0 213 29 8 Florida
24 Pearson, Kalvin 5-10 200 30 5 Grambling
39 Schweigert, Stuart 6-1 210 27 6 Purdue
With Henry able to play CB and S, I would venture they keep 4 S and 5 CB for 9 defensive backs total. (I also see them keeping at least 9 DLine, and 7 LB for 24 defensive players minimum) As you can see from this list alone, that is a lot of competition!
Also, discounting the mid-season signings of Schweigert and Hicks, Bullocks and Pearson are the only two safeties that were on the team at this time last year.
First of all, lets look at scheme. Since Schwartz prefers a "Right and Left" Safety vs Free and Strong, that means both S have to be able to both cover and bring the Lionel. (Lionel -- as in "bring the freight train through their sorry behind" when tackling, as a tribute to the team's past.) Alexander was decent at both, but not spectacular. That description also fits everyone but Delmas on that list.
Delmas will be one starter. That leaves 6 guys fighting for 3 spots right now.
Pearson is viewed as a special teams player, and strong backup but not a consistent starter. That view, I think, is justified by his past play and what he showed last season.
As for the others and why they traded Alexander -- is he as good as them? Possibly. Significantly better than all of the other 3 they will end up cutting (4 if Alexander were still on the roster)? I have to honestly answer no. How Nothcutt fits in at WR will explain that side, but even if he doesn't make the roster, at worst the Lions got a look-see at a veteran WR for a S that was one of 5 or 6 guys who were equal, one of whom would be cut. Not too bad, and a very pro-active way to continue re-shaping the roster.
Pearson is a very solid special teams player, while I don't see him winning a starting role I think he currently has a lock on the backup spot to Delmas. One of the other candidates would have to out-play Pearson on special teams, where he excelled until he began starting last year and was fatigued.
I see Manuel, Bullocks, and Shweigert competing to start opposite Delmas, with the top two of the three making the roster. I don't see Battle and Hicks as really being in the fight -- looking at size alone they are by far the two lightweights of the crew and I don't think they will have the punch in the run game that the coaching staff in Detroit is looking for.
A lot of the questions around the Alexander trade stemmed from Detroit letting a "young safety" go. Yet, looking at the ages above -- 22, 25, 27, 29, 30 -- of the 5 guys most likely to make the team you can see that relatively speaking ALL the Lions Safeties are fairly young. If Hicks or Battle manage to land a spot, they are both 24.
While I like Schweigert, I get the feeling the Bullocks will really come through. (I have been wrong before, so don't wager the house on it.) That will give the Lions a nice mix of young, in their prime, and veteran safeties with the following lineup:
RS: Delmas, 22
LS: Manuel, 29
Rotational Backup/Future Starter/Special Teams: Bullocks, 25
Backup/Special Teams: Pearson, 30
If Bullocks doesn't progress and get back to his pre-injury form, then look for another S to be picked up next year in FA or the Draft (if the right one is available) unless Schweigert or one of the young pups (Battle & Hicks) really shows up and excels, beating Bullocks out and locking down the rotational backup/future starter spot.