May 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm

John Niyo: Lions Insider

Lions' Jonathan Hefney hopes to play bigger than his small stature

Jonathan Hefney )

Allen Park -- Jim Schwartz playfully referred to Jonathan Hefney as "a little midget" after the Lions signed the CFL standout as a free agent this winter.

And there's still a healthy debate in the Lions' locker room about the true height of Hefney, one of the Lions' new faces in the secondary.

"He's less than 5-foot-8," Schwartz said, "even though he'll probably dispute that."

He does, as promised, despite what the head coach and Lions cornerback Jonathan Wade, Hefney's ex-teammate at the University of Tennessee, say.

"I think I'm 5-8, but when I got measured I was right up under 5-9," said Hefney, a safety who went undrafted out of college in 2008 and ended up with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last fall, earning all-CFL and rookie-of-the-year honors.

"But I've been dunking a basketball since I was in high school," he added. "I just go out and compete harder than anybody else. That's how I've always been. Always."

He's hoping that competitive drive will help him land a roster spot in the NFL, a place where he -- like a lot of CFL players -- felt he belonged in the first place. He spent a few months with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2008, then got a look on Philadelphia's practice squad that season. But he headed north last year looking for an opportunity to play and showcase his skills.

"Being in the CFL, it helped me out a lot," said Hefney, an ex-high school quarterback. "It humbled me and gave me a perspective on what I really wanted. You know, (I just want) to get that chance to play in the NFL, which I really didn't feel like I got that shot coming out of college."

Asked how long it took him to get over that disappointment last year, Hefney smiled.

"I'm really not even past it, to tell you the truth," said Hefney, who grew up with Lions safety Ko Simpson in Rock Hill, S.C., and also played at Tennessee with defensive end Turk McBride. "There's a lot that I'm not past."

Schwartz saw plenty of Hefney prior to the 2008 draft while coaching the Tennessee Titans. And while fans shouldn't read anything into Thursday's OTA workout, where Hefney worked alongside Louis Delmas as the No. 1 safety pairing, it sounds like Hefney's doing his part to impress.

"He's got really, really good quickness," Schwartz said of Hefney, who could also get some work as a nickel cornerback. "And a lot of times in our secondary, we're looking for like four corners across the back end -- guys that have corner-type ability. He has that. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's done a really good job of picking up what we do and covering ground. And I think his quickness and his range is one of the things that the coaches have liked about him."

Race for safety

It's a wide-open competition for that starting safety position opposite Delmas. And the newest contender is veteran C.C. Brown , who signed with the Lions as a free agent Monday. The 6-foot, 208-pound Brown was thrust into a starting role for seven games with the New York Giants last season, but was benched in large part because of his struggles in coverage.

But Schwartz said Brown, 27, a three-year starter in Houston from 2005-07, has a "clean slate" as he joins the mix at safety with Simpson, Marquand Manuel , Marvin White , Daniel Bullocks and Hefney.

"We're not going to judge him on what happened last year," Schwartz said. "We'll judge him on what happens this year. I mean, he has speed. He has enough speed to be able to cover. He's the size that we're looking for in safeties. Let's not judge him on what happened last year. Let's judge him on what he does now."

Daniel Mears/The Detroit News

Todd McInturf/The Detroit NewsSafety C.C. Brown, left, runs a drill against cornerback Paul Pratt during an organized team activity session Thursday in Allen Park. Brown struggled with pass coverage for the Giants last season.

By the numbers

7 300-yard passing performances allowed by Lions defense last year

8 100-yard rushing performances allowed by Lions defense last year

6 100-yard receiving performances allowed by Lions defense last year

1 200-yard receiving performance allowed by Lions defense last year

Quotable

"He's running with Calvin (Johnson) step-for-step, for the most part, which is impressive. The guy can really run."

--- Matthew Stafford, left, quarterback, on what he has seen from new cornerback Chris Houston in offseason workouts

Bombs away

The Lions were the only team in the NFL last season to allow opposing quarterbacks to complete more than half of their pass attempts of 20-plus yards:

Rank Team Pct. Comp-Att
32.Detroit Lions 51.0 25-49
31.Oakland Raiders48.9 22-45
30.Tennessee Titans 48.4 31-64
29.Atlanta Falcons46.9 30-64

Source: ESPN Stats & Information

The road ahead

A look at the NFL strength of schedule ratings for 2010:

Rank Team Combined W-L in '09 Pct.
T1.Texans140-116.547
T1.Titans140-116.547
3.Cowboys*139-117.543
4.Bengals*138-118.539
5.Jaguars137-119.535
6.Patriots*136-120.531
7.Giants135-121.527
8.Redskins134-122.523
9.Eagles*133-123.520
T10.Browns132-124.516
T10.Colts*132-124.516
12.Ravens*130-126.508
T12.Lions130-126.508

*team made 2009 playoffs

Safety C.C. Brown, left, runs a drill against cornerback Paul Pratt during ... (Todd McInturf/The Detroit News)