Lions expect CB Lawson to limit penalties

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Nevin Lawson

Allen Park — Penalties were a problem for Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson last season. At some level, that was to be expected.

While it was technically his second season, it was essentially his first. As a rookie in 2014, Lawson suffered a dislocated foot in Week 2, requiring emergency surgery. He wasn’t able to return to practice for seven months.

Lawson was a backup to open last season, barely seeing the field the first six weeks. But he was suddenly thrust into a starting role when veteran Rashean Mathis suffered what would be a season-ending a concussion in Week 7.

Lawson largely held his own, relying heavily on his physicality to compensate for shortcomings, both with his crude technique and his mental understanding of the scheme. That played well for him many weeks, especially during the team’s streak-snapping win in Green Bay. It also led to seven penalties, tied for second most on the team.

This year, with a full offseason to prep for a starting role, and some experience under his belt, the Lions are confident the flags will be fewer and further between when Lawson is in coverage.

“The thing we did, is we didn’t harp on his penalties, all we harped on is cleaning up his technique,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “That got better once he learned the system a little better, so he wasn’t panicking about, ‘Oh, maybe the guy goes inside and I’m not quite sure where my help is. Well, I got help, I got time to catch up.’ He did those things, and he’s had a really, really solid camp.”

Justin Rogers predicts Lions' 2016 season

Understanding when and where he has support on the field allows Lawson to dial back on bodying opposing receivers.

“You just have to understand the situations," Lawson said. "You need to know when you can and when you can’t (be aggressive). You have to know where your help is and when you won’t have help.”

Lawson’s goals were wide-reaching this offseason. Of course he wanted to get stronger and faster, all players do, but he put in a concerted effort in the film room, trying to get a better understanding of how offenses operate.

Rookie GM Quinn changing culture of lowly Lions

“I wanted to study offenses more, so I took time this offseason and watched a lot of film on offensive schemes and route concepts,” Lawson said.

Safety Glover Quin has been invaluable in this area, helping the young cornerback understand some of the nuances of the game.

“He helped me a lot, even this morning, going over little stuff,” Lawson said. “He’s so smart. He’s able to identify certain formations, certain routes they’re going to run before they even run them.”

If Lawson makes the strides in his development both he and the Lions expect, it would solidify one of the weakest spots on team’s defense, at least on paper. He’ll be put to the test immediately during Detroit’s Week 1 matchup in Indianapolis.

The Colts feature a trio of speedy receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorset. The three combined for 30 plays of 20-plus yards last season.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com