August 17, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Detroit Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) talks with defensive end Cliff Avril (92) their preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE
Because the Detroit Lions kept only 24 offensive players, they were able to have 26 defensive players on their initial 53-man roster for the first time in the Jim Schwartz/Martin Mayhew era. They kept nine defensive linemen, seven linebackers and 10 defensive backs, and they actually cut a few guys who easily could have been the 27th, 28th or even 29th defender on the team if there was room.
Let's examine the 26 players on defense who did make the team.
The only thing in question at defensive end was if the Lions could find a way to keep Everette Brown. As we now know, the answer was no. There wasn't enough room for six defensive ends. Brown probably had a good enough camp to make the team, but the top five at this position was set. Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch are the starters, and Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are two backups who are almost at a starting level. There's also Ronnell Lewis, who was drafted this year and is expected to contribute a lot on special teams. This position is stacked with talent, as evidenced by someone like Brown not even making the team.
Like Brown at defensive end, the Lions had to part ways with Andre Fluellen at defensive tackle despite him probably being deserving of a spot. I personally thought the Lions would go with Fluellen as the 10th defensive linemen instead of keeping 10 defensive backs, but the team obviously feels comfortable with a rotation that includes Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill. That is a lot of talent, and if there's an injury or Fairley is suspended, I would imagine Fluellen will be the first free agent who gets a call if he is still without a team.
It was pretty clear that the Lions would keep seven linebackers after they drafted Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead back in April. Both players quickly drew a lot of praise from coaches, and that praise continued during training camp. The two rookies earned a spot on the team pretty quickly, and they added themselves to a group of backups that also includes Ashlee Palmer and Doug Hogue. With Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant all returning as starters, there weren't really any question marks at linebacker.
The position that saw the biggest amount of turnover from 2011 to 2012 was cornerback. Chris Houston is the only cornerback on this year's team who was around last year. Bill Bentley and Jonte Green, two draft picks from this year, both made the team, and Bentley has actually already established himself as a starter. Jacob Lacey, who signed this year as a free agent, figures to see a lot of action as the Lions' nickelback. The Lions also have Kevin Barnes and Drayton Florence, who were just recently acquired. Florence signed as a free agent over the weekend, whereas Barnes was acquired in a trade from the Washington Redskins. This position is certainly still lacking talent, but the Lions have worked hard to improve their depth at cornerback.
It remains to be seen if Louis Delmas will be able to play on Sunday in the Lions' season opener, but thanks to the emergence of John Wendling, his absence may not be nearly as big of a deal as one might think. Wendling put together an outstanding training camp and preseason and is now known for more than simply being a special teams ace. He will start if Delmas can't go and will join Erik Coleman at the top of the depth chart. Coleman beat out Amari Spievey for one of the starting jobs at safety after Spievey got off to a slow start this offseason. Spievey has been better as of late, and he solidified his spot on the team with a strong finish to the preseason. Ricardo Silva also appeared to solidify his spot on the team at the end of the preseason, and he survived the cuts made last Friday. Unfortunately for him, he was released when the Lions brought in Florence and is now back on the practice squad.