Lions' roster coming into focus, but they're still on hunt for secondary depth

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

With the primary wave of free-agency over and the draft fast approaching, the Detroit Lions' depth chart is becoming increasingly clear. That's not to say there isn't plenty of spots capable of being upgraded via the draft, but you can at least get a sense for projected starters and their backups at most positions.

That said, Detroit's secondary still is a bit of a mystery, particularly at cornerback, where the Lions remain thin and relatively inexperienced with the few options they do have on the roster. 

"It’s a position that we’ll continue to address now (and) throughout the entire process, up into the draft, and even after the Draft if need be," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said on Monday. "It’s definitely a position that is not going to be overlooked or ignored. It is a young group that we have now.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (83) can't make the catch as Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah defends.

"I really like the group that we have in terms of the youth and the upside."

After trimming veterans Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman for salary relief earlier this month, the Lions have just three cornerbacks under contract. Typically, a team will carry six into the season. 

The returning group is led by last year's first-round pick Jeff Okudah and third-year man Amani Oruwariye, who started 15 games for the Lions last season. That's your starting tandem, barring the addition of a challenger in the early rounds of the draft.

As for the ever-important nickel role and depth at all three spots, there's uncertainty.

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The Lions did retain free agent Mike Ford, a former undrafted free agent who has been with the team the past three seasons. He's a key cog on Detroit's special teams, but has seen his defensive role shrink each season. He played just 58 defensive snaps in 2020. 

The free-agent market is still flush with veteran options, but most are likely out of Detroit's budget-conscious price range. Players such as Richard Sherman aren't going to sign with the Lions, but a mid-tier option like Nickell Robey-Coleman — an experienced slot who Holmes knows from their shared time with the Los Angeles Rams — could make sense. 

So could an aging, but accomplished veteran like Casey Heyward Jr. If nothing else, it would add a veteran voice to the room to complement Detroit's youth at the position. But even if the Lions don't find an experienced option they like on the market, Holmes is confident the coaches the team has added together will keep the development of Okudah, Oruwariye and Ford on track. 

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"The coaching staff that we have on board, starting with (defensive-backs coach) Aubrey Pleasant, (defensive coordinator) Aaron Glenn, I do think that those guys will help those young kids tremendously and their development," Holmes said. 

Glenn, a 15-year NFL veteran, built his coaching resume on aiding the development of a young secondary in New Orleans. That group has gone from one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best over the past few seasons. 

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jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers