Detroit Lions Say Bye Bye To Dre' Bly and Hello To Alphonso Smith

Blue in GreerCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2010

nteresting weekend for Lion fans, one which may have seen Martin Mayhew engaged another franchise in a lopsided trade. At least thats what Lion fans are hoping happens, with newly acquired cornerback Alphonso Smith filling a major hole for the Lions.

Many of us sat on our favorite internet site waiting for news on the cuts, both Lions and possible players who might fill some of our holes.

Martin Mayhew wasn't really going to go into this season with that linebacker situation like it was and it sure wouldn't hurt to upgrade the secondary.

As the news started to come out there were some mild surprises like Jon Janson and Leonard Cohen but they were in some pretty tough competition throughout training camp. In the end it was their lack of versatility that did them in.

The disappointing news for some that De De Dorsey was cut was balanced by the almost unanimous approval that Eric King was out too.

But than came the biggest surprise to me — they cut Dre' Bly.

Sure, he wasn't what he was in his first tour with the Lions but he didn't look that bad in pre-season and shouldn't all that experience help those young, unproven corners?

Based on the comments made on M-Live — Marvin Gaye wasn't the last Motown guy asking What's Going On  Come to think of it let's fire up a little classic Motown sound in the background. That link will open up the You-tube nine minute version in another tab if you want to listen along.

As it usually happens a M-Live poster helped make some sense out of all things Lions - I just don't go looking for political advice. (inside joke for those who subject themselves to the insanity of M-Live)

This time it was Mitten with some answers — click on his response below if you want to read all the comments.

MittenSportsFan September 05, 2010 at 8:32AM Follow

For those who want to keep Bly as a mentor, he is just not that type of guy.
Bly saw the younger CB's as competition and nnever really bounded with them or tried to mentor at all. The 7-10 practices I atteneded Bly would be off to himself, talking to coaches or older players at other positions. Everyone else laughed, joked and interacted with each other and gravitated to Delmas except Bly. It didn't appear that Bly accepted that this was Delmas' secondary.
I really like Aaron Berry but I didn't think he practiced or played enough all summer to beat out Bly. I thought since he was an undrafted Free Agent and was hurt most of the summer with the bad hamstring that they would try to sneak him onto the practice squad for at least a few weeks. I think they like Berry enough that they didn't want to risk losing him.

If that's the case than Bly could best help the young corners by getting out of the way. Let's give the snaps to Chris Houston, Jonathon Wade, Aaron Berry and the latest Mayhew addition, Alphonso Smith.

While many of us waited for the other shoe to drop from the Bly cut we watched as the Lions picked up a KR and a TE or is he a LB?

Doesn't matter, we are pretty sure he wasn't the DB we expected.

When the day ended with no word of a veteran defensive back my mind turned to two questions.

So how good is Smith anyways and how did the Lions get him?

Our day started with a nice little surprise when it was reported that the Lions were indeed working the phones and it was Denver on the other end of the line again.

Did Martin Mayhew really just trade a TE they were going to cut for the 37th overall pick in last years draft?

On face value it looks like Mayhew used his mind control powers again. From the Roy Williams trade to this, if I'm a GM of another team I don't go in the same room with Mayhew.

If you clicked on the scouting report from NFLDraftScout or watched Mayock and friends carry on about him in the video below you know the scouts loved this guy.

His 21 career INTs at Wake Forest broke Dre' Bly's ACC record and it wasn't just taking 4 of those INTs back for TDs that labeled him a big play maker. Consider these career stats - 9.5 sacks, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 8 forced fumbles and 5 blocked kicks.

Maybe the best straight up man to man corners in the draft and the confidence to pull it off in the NFL.

I loved the NFLDraftScout comparison.

Compares To: DRE' BLY, ex-Denver — Smith is an extraordinary pass thief with great timing and recovery speed. He plays taller than his size indicates, but is not strong enough to challenge more physical receivers, especially in press coverage. He is best suited to be a zone corner or operate in the slot in man coverage as he will get soft on you if bounced around by bigger blockers.

Alphonso came into the 2009 draft with a possible 1st round rating as a possible difference maker. When that 5-9 size dropped him to the second round Josh McDaniels burned a 2010 first round pick to jump back into the draft and take what he hoped would be the replacement for Dre' Bly.

Amazing how often Alphonso and Bly are linked.

So how did he go from the next running mate with Champ Bailey to hoping to make an impression in Motown after one year?

Easy answer is Josh McDaniels right?

This is hardly the first head scratcher that started with the Denver Broncos trading a talented player and only ended up with angry Bronco fans.

But this was McDaniels' guy, right?

Didn't he trade a first round pick — nobody gives up on their first round picks that quick. Has to be a reason.

His Bronco career didn't start well - he had a knee injury in training camp. Nothing serious but just enough that Jack Williams beat him out for the nickle job.

For those thinking Jack Williams sounds familiar — check the Lions PUP list. He is the guy the Lions picked up on waivers from Denver who blew out his knee on his first play as a Lion last year.

You know, I'm not saying McDaniels is impatient or anything but I bet he calls ahead when he stops at a fast food drive thru window so they can have his order ready.

Alphonso did get in some games last year. ProFootballFocus had him down for 150 snaps with the Broncos and they had a few stats that might give some insight into why he is in Detroit.

Opposing teams threw the ball his way 19 times in those 150 snaps and they completed 13 of those passes for a 14.3 yards per catch average and a TD. While Smith only defended 2 of those 19 passes and made the tackle on 8 of those 13 receptions.

Oh oh.

Gun won't like that - sure hope the Fonz doesn't have rabbit ears.

I guess we could say he struggled his rookie year but maybe Champ Bailey knew why. In a March 24th, 2010 article with The Gazzette's Bronco beat writer Frank Schwab quoted the nine time pro bowl cornerback on Alphonso's struggles last year; 

"When things go bad, don't get down on yourself, because you've got to keep playing," Bailey said. "We don't have anybody to come take him out. We depend on somebody, you've got to play, and you can't get too down on yourself. I think he did a little bit last year."

Well if that's the problem let me say welcome to Detroit.

Jim Schwartz likes his defensive backs confident and maybe even a little cocky. It's a tough job going against all those giants that run like gazelles in the NFL and those quarterbacks spend all week dissecting film looking for the smallest weakness.

Even the best corners get beat once in a while and nothing an offensive coordinator likes more than a rookie defensive back.

Schwartz understands that and he has shown plenty of the patience necessary to develop his young players. He also seems to understand when to coach them up and when they need a little kick in the pants.

Those are qualities that Smith's old coach has yet to exhibit.

note: Is this the time to think how lucky we are right now? How many of us wanted McDaniel coaching our Lions a year and a half ago?

That's okay if you just raised your hands. It can be your own little secret - I'm more worried about that Joey Harrington jersey you still keep in your closet.

Back to more important things here. Consider what Champ Bailey said in the previously mentioned article in the Colorado Springs Gazette;

"He has grown a lot," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "I think he had some bumps along the way, but we all do as young players. But he has grown a lot. I think he understands what we expect from him. He has stepped it up quite a bit."

In an August 12th article by Kim Constantinesco from Predominantly orange quoted Alphonso with the following;

"Coming in as a rookie, you’re so uptight, anxious, and nervous, and I was off my game"

I’m just playing now. As a rookie, you have to think a whole lot because you don’t know anything coming into a new system with new coaches and new teammates. Having a chance to learn the defense from being around Coach Martindale and all of the guys in the locker room helps you understand how everyone else is around you, and you move faster a little bit…When your thinking, you’re not playing really fast. ”

That was before McDaniels decided to go with 2010 draftees Parrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson over Alphonso Smith. ( hmmmmm Williams, Smith - should we expect Syd'Quan before too long? Think we could make it Champ instead?)

So now he's a Detroit Lion and Schwartz and Gun will get him playing really fast and we hope really soon.

Two things to consider here - First from that NFLDraftScout report;

Competitiveness: Smith plays with good aggression until confronted and then will shy away. Shows good mental toughness when he doesn't let his emotions get the best of him. He could play nickel back or zone corner due to lack of size, but he is never going to be confused for an impact hitter. GRADE: 6.0

Tackling Ability: Smith is just an adequate tackler. He will go low and wrestle down receivers, but ballcarriers are simply going to run through him. He can hope to knock the outside runner out of bounds, but he hits with such little thud, a mosquito bite is more painful. GRADE: 5.1

Going to have to work on that a little, plenty of mosquito repellent in Michigan.

Apparently we can't expect a thumper but he doesn't have to be. Dre' Bly and Deion Sanders are just two corners they said similar things about but both actually turned into efficient tacklers. I'll take efficient if we get big plays on the ball.

The next thing is often overlooked by fans but could be the most important question of all.

From that same NFLDraftScout report.

Character: Smith plays with emotion and can get in trouble with the coaches and referees. He is an engaging person who presents himself well off the field, but he has a chip on his shoulder that might not go over well with NFL veterans. GRADE: 5.5

Work Habits: Smith is a good worker who had maturity issues earlier in his career, but did eventually buy into the program and football is very important to him. He takes well to hard coaching and is a scrappy type in the locker room who won't hesitate to order his teammates to fall in if necessary. GRADE: 6.0

You see - I'm not concerned with his skills and he is in a perfect situation as far as the coaches and the opportunity to play. He fits the defense well for the nickle slot for now and if he works on that tackling thing he could easily move into a starting position.

But read that last little bit of the scouting report closely.

Personally I am not bothered by it in itself and I don't think Schwartz will have any problem either. Corners need that edge and that emotion can be channeled into positive things.

But NFL teams aren't fantasy football teams, often the locker room can be a tricky thing to predict. Guys who were leaders in one place can be cancers in another situation.

Now I am not calling Alphonso a cancer any more than I am calling him a leader. That's an extreme example but many times it's the little, almost unnoticeable interaction that decides success or failure.

The unquestioned leader of this secondary is Louis Delmas and Smith's whole character and work habits part of that scouting report could have been a copy and paste job from last year's scouting report on Delmas.

How those two strong personalities get along will determine just how well this works.

It could work out great.

Most of the really great secondaries have a couple of these type of guys. The shared emotion can not only drive each other it often infects the whole secondary. That Mel Blount led Steeler secondaries of the 70's weren't bashful and it's been like that through out NFL history.

But that's the high side of this equation.

I have to remind myself that if you want a really big explosion you have to work with some pretty dangerous stuff.

Sometimes the very thing that makes a player great clashes with what makes another player great. It doesn't even have to be a big explosion, it can be one player doesn't develop like he should and that might actually be the worst outcome.

The Lions have a year to really evaluate the chemistry of all these defensive backs and if something isn't working they need to know before the next offseason. Last thing we want is the chemistry looks okay so they fiddle around the edges a little.

If it ain't gonna work Mayhew and Schwartz need to know.

Now I have no inside information nor do I have any reason to think there could be a problem other than when you mix volatile things together something gets burned.

That doesn't mean it can't leave the opposing team the one looking for a little medical attention.

It's most likely Smith fits right in, I have never heard anything about any of the secondary where they had problems with a teammate.

It's even possible he is exactly what the Lions needed — a shut down corner. He has the raw skills and Schwartz will get that confidence back in him.

The Lions are in full rebuild mode in the secondary and with the pressure the Lions are expected to have on the quarterback those ball hawking skills of the Fonz could go a long ways towards fixing the pass defense.

If I'm a betting man I'm betting this works out fine. This is turning into a very strong locker room and no one personality can change that.

But this will be a test for both Delmas and Smith. We want both of these emotional players right on the edge but they still have to keep their heads in the game and occasionally one will have to sacrifice for the other.

A NFL locker room isn't mamby pamby land — I love that commercial by the way, that is Gun right?

The chemistry doesn't have to click like Matt Stafford to Calvin Johnson. (just filling my duty and obligation as a Lion fan to mention those two in every article)

It might even be better if there is the occasional clash. We want them testing their boundaries and it's how they handle those overlaps that will tell the story. If they can turn that into friendly competition opposing QBs will suffer.

In my Kool-Aid induced visions I can easily see Alphonso Smith and Louis Delmas splitting travel costs for yearly trips to the Pro Bowl while two or three of these other young DBs develop into solid NFL players.

There is so much raw speed and skill with all these young players if they can get the chemistry right the Lions might have one heck of a secondary going into next year.

Who knows — some of us may even need to shift our focus from draft eligible corners to Linebacker or dare I say Left Tackle?

Maybe we better wait before we turn in that draft card — with Mayhew on the job the next answer might be right around the corner.


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