August 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Chris McCosky

Lions' secondary doesn't get high marks in exhibition opener

Allen Park — It’s poor practice to over-react to preseason games. Coaches know this; fans and media, not always.

Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah gets the headlines and makes the highlight reel for his pick-six and tackle for loss, but he was on the field for 22 other snaps Friday night. The seeds of his growth and development will be sown in those other snaps, especially those against an All-Pro left tackle like D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

He will learn more from the plays he was unable to make than from the two that he did make. That’s the essence of these games. They are coaching tools, teaching points.

And no position coach came out of the game against the Jets with a longer list of teaching points than secondary coach Marcus Robertson.

But just like we shouldn’t get too giddy about Ziggy’s flash plays, we shouldn’t get too alarmed that a trio of quarterbacks —none of them named Manning, Rodgers or Brees — completed 27 of 39 passes for 317 yards, two touchdowns and a combined rating of 100.1 against them.

These were Jets quarterbacks, a punch-line of a position group featuring Mr. Butt Fumble Mark Sanchez, over-drafted rookie Geno Smith and the renowned Greg McElroy. After starting 1-for-3 with an interception, Sanchez proceeded to hit nine of 10 passes, engineering a crisp seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

Coach Jim Schwartz said after the game that the scoring drive came against the second and third group of defensive backs, which is true. But three players the Lions are counting on to play big roles — safety Don Carey and corners Bill Bentley and Darius Slay were on the field for a lot of that damage.

“That’s one thing we probably need to improve,” Schwartz said. “We had some holes back there. There were some plays that they threw in where we should have been strong and they made some plays.”

The teaching point will be how the entire defense reacted — or didn’t — when the Jets went to a fastball attack.

“We got tempoed with that group,” Schwartz said. “That was their first series and a lot of guys were fairly inexperienced. They went fast tempo and I think that unsettled those guys a little.”

Granted, veteran Ron Bartell, who has been running with the first unit at right corner, was scratched because of his tender shoulder. That pushed rookie Slay up to the first unit. Also, as expected, safety Louis Delmas was held out, even though he looked as spry and spunky as ever during warm-ups.

Also second year corners Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood were out with hamstring issues.

So, when Smith and McIlroy were doing their damage, it was against third-teamers playing on the second unit and fourth-teamers playing on the third.

One to watch

What had to be somewhat alarming to the coaches, though, was how badly Bentley struggled. He has been a standout in camp, causing the first team offense fits with his ball-hawking skills as a slot defender.

The Jets went right after him Friday with great success. In the first series, the play before Ansah’s pick-six, the Jets faced third-and-11 from their own 9. Bentley was beaten by rookie receiver Ryan Spadola for 11 yards and a first down.

In the next series, on another third-and-10, Bentley was beaten by Clyde Gates for 18 yards.

On the third series, on a third-and-11, Bentley and safety Chris Hope were beat by Jeremy Kerley for 22 yards, which set up a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland.

You never want to see a young player struggle like that — and I am certainly not privy to what the exact assignments were on those plays (though the film is pretty incriminating) — but with Bentley it could be a blessing in disguise. His confidence seems unshakable. A night like this won’t break him.

Maybe things were getting a little easy for him in practice. Maybe he reached a comfort level playing against his own offense in a controlled setting every day.

Maybe he was initially dazed by actual game speed, by trying to cover routes and formations he wasn’t as familiar with. The Lions didn’t do much game-planning for the Jets and Bentley is a voracious film-study guy.

Whatever. Bentley will learn from this and that’s the whole point of these exhibition games. Nobody is adding up the wins and losses, the flash plays or the failed plays. What gets charted week to week is progress.

If Bentley is a better player against the Browns Thursday than he was against the Jets, then it was a valuable experience.

Lions safety Louis Delmas was held out of Friday's exhibition opener at Ford Field. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News
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