Allen Park — The Lions have struggled to find consistent play at the nickel cornerback spot in recent years, and they hoped last year's fourth-round pick Nevin Lawson could be a long-term solution.
Two weeks into Lawson's NFL career, though, he suffered a devastating foot injury, missed the rest of the season and is still recovering. Between injuries to Lawson and Bill Bentley and an overall lack in depth at the position, the Lions drafted two cornerbacks this year that will make it even more difficult for Lawson to regain his slot role.
But the confident 24-year-old isn't worried about the extra competition.
"It definitely doesn't mess with my psyche because I'm a competitor," he said. "One thing I know in the NFL is no matter where you go there's always going to be competition. You should never be relaxed wherever you got drafted. At the end of the day, I know that I have to work. I know nothing's going to be given to me. That's been my whole life. I've worked for everything I've got, so that's the goal."
The 5-foot-10 Lawson was a two-star recruit out of southern Florida and became a three-year starter at Utah State, so he's overcome adversity before. The difference now is that he's never suffered a serious injury playing football.
Lawson has been active during the Lions' offseason program, but, like Bentley, has not been participating in team drills. He said he's not sure when the trainers will allow him to go 100 percent, and the Lions have been protective with some of their players who are coming back from injury, hoping they'll be fully recovered by training camp. When the reins come off, Lawson said he'll be ready.
After the draft, cornerbacks coach Tony Oden said Lawson and Bentley are two players with the mental makeup to bounce back from devastating injuries — Bentley tore his anterior cruciate ligament. But it's still a tough experience for Lawson having to continue watching from the sideline.
"It's definitely difficult," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say it's easy, but at the same time, especially being the type of competitor I am, just to watch it's tough. But I know that I have to be patient."
Lawson didn't start running again until February and did some of his physical therapy in San Diego before returning for the start of the offseason program. He said the mental part of therapy was more difficult than the physical pain.
And now, unlike his rookie season, the Lions have more options than Lawson and Bentley at nickel. Third-round pick Alex Carter and sixth-round pick Quandre Diggs will compete for playing time there. Veteran Josh Wilson might be the favorite to win the job.
Once he has the chance, Lawson said he wants to prove he's still as fast as the guy who ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also wants to show a better grasp of the playbook and get his hands on more balls than he did in training camp last year, though that was enough to start the year as Bentley's top backup.
"You can do as much mental reps, you can do as much individual drills, but the only way you get better is by playing football," he said.