Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will be happy to see safety Louis Delmas on the field Saturday against the Browns. Delmas has been nursing a groin injury during the exhibition season. (Daniel Mears The Detroit News)
Quiet time is almost over for the Lions defense.
And that's music to the ears of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, a man who, while he might not share the same heavy-metal playlist as coach Jim Schwartz, certainly isn't fond of the sounds of silence.
Safety Louis Delmas was back at practice Thursday as the Lions geared up for Saturday's regular-season dress rehearsal against the Browns at Ford Field. And with the boisterous Delmas -- sidelined for much of the last two months as he recovers from a torn groin muscle -- returning to the field alongside linebacker DeAndre Levy, sidelined for most of camp by a nagging back problem, Cunningham finally can take out the ear plugs.
Quite frankly, he didn't like what he didn't hear.
"It's like life changes," Cunningham said. "It's much more volatile and explosive and energetic. When DeAndre's out there by himself handling everything, you can hear a pin drop. He does everything right, but it puts a lot more pressure on him (without Delmas). So seeing them back together makes me feel good."
As it should everyone in Allen Park, where all the signs of progress this offseason have overshadowed a lingering concern about two of last year's few bright spots on defense.
Delmas and, in a bit of a surprise, Levy, were the rookie standouts defensively. And both are being counted on as defensive leaders this year, with Delmas at free safety backing Levy as he assumes the duties at middle linebacker.
They're an odd couple. Levy's not shy on the field, but he's a bit an introvert when he's out of uniform, unlike Delmas, whose Oscar-winning animation is a round-the-clock feature.
"He's a vocal guy, an emotional guy," said Levy, who sat out the first two weeks of camp but made his exhibition debut last week at Denver. "You need one of those spark-energy guys on defense, and he's that guy for us."
Still, even Delmas admits the spark was flickering this summer.
One day in mid-June he's bobbing and weaving his way through a grueling "bonus Wednesday" boxing workout. The next day -- six days before the team's final offseason minicamp -- he goes a step too far in the weight room ("foolishness," Delmas calls it) and suddenly his sophomore season is in jeopardy.
"Think about that," he said. "You work hard all day every day and you go in the weight room and you do something you've got no business doing and next thing you know."
He shakes his head and sums up the frustration he felt when he got the initial MRI, "Miserable."
"That's when I started to doubt myself," he said, though he credits his teammates and his coaches -- including a meeting with Schwartz this week -- with pulling him through.
Ready to play hurt
Cunningham, too, admits to having a few doubts along the way. The Lions made a big push to upgrade their defensive line this offseason, and thus far it sure looks as if they've succeeded. But a defense that ranked last the last three years still needs playmakers on the back end, particularly at safety in today's pass-happy NFL.
"You worry about all your players, but when it comes to a guy like Delmas, you definitely think about it constantly," he said. "And if I told you, 'I'm one of those guys that I just coach the guys I've got.' "
Well, then, he'd be lying.
"When you have (Delmas) on the sideline, you think about him all the time. You know, it's 'What if'he were out there."
Barring a setback, he'll be out there Saturday -- finally. Just don't expect to see Delmas play as much as the rest of the starters. Because with his aggressive nature, as he points out with a laugh, "There's no chance of me not trying to do too much."
For now, patience is still the best medicine.
But don't be surprised if the doubts resurface occasionally -- if not frequently -- during the regular season. Delmas says he's prepared to play hurt, if necessary, something he did throughout the second half of his rookie season, when he battled injuries to both his ankles.
"As far as this injury hurting me and keeping me out of games in the regular season, the chances are slim and none," he insists.
That's just talk, obviously. But again, from the Lions' perspective, it's nice to hear.
Browns at Lions
Kickoff: 5 p.m. Saturday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Cleveland 1-1, Detroit 1-1
Last season: The Browns won 27-10 at home during the exhibition season, and the Lions won 38-37 at home during the regular season.
With 94 tackles and two interceptions last season, Louis Delmas ... (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)
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