ALLEN PARK, Mich. Its not easy to keep track of all the defensive backs who have made their way into the Detroit Lions lineup in recent years.
Injuries and mediocre results led to six different cornerbacks and six different safeties getting at least one start just last season.
Cornerback Chris Houston, in his fourth year with the club, has seen it all.
Ive probably played with like 40-something (defensive backs), he said. I dont even remember half the guys who were in here.
That lack of continuity has been a big part of the reason for the overall ineffectiveness of the defense in recent memory.
The Lions, who play their next preseason game Thursday at Cleveland, have drafted four cornerbacks in the last two years with hopes of fixing some of the problems in the secondary.
The staff has put players in here who can be here for a while, said Houston, who signed a five-year, 25-million free-agent deal during the off-season to remain in Detroit.
The Lions still have had to sign two more cornerbacks Brandon King and Myron Lewis in the last week to compensate for training-camp injuries.
The question is whether Houston will remember their names a year from now?
Reflecting on last weeks 26-17 victory over the New York Jets in the preseason opener, Houston said he saw some encouraging signs.
An interception return for a touchdown by rookie defensive end Ezekiel Ziggy Ansah and the overall play of the defensive line certainly stood out.
Houston, however, believes the defense needs to play with more of an attitude.
Weve got to develop that swagger, he said. We have it sometimes. Sometimes, we dont.
Weve got to create a different culture around here than it was last year. I think there was a lot of individual play last year because of guys not knowing where they were going to be. We had so many free agents. So everybody was looking out for themselves.
The defense failed to make big plays last year, finishing 20th in the league in sacks (34), 26th in fumble recoveries (five) and 23rd in interceptions (11).
A year earlier, the Lions were 10th in sacks (41), second in fumble recoveries (12) and fifth in interceptions (21).
It wasnt a coincidence that Detroit went from a 10-win, playoff team in 2011 to 4-12, with eight season-ending losses, in 2012.
We have a lot of playmakers, Houston insisted. In 2011, we had E. (Eric) Wright making plays, Alphonso Smith (neither is with the team anymore).
I think these guys that weve got here can do the same thing. It just depends on staying healthy. We were pretty much healthy in 2011.
Another reason for Houstons optimism toward this years defense is the leadership thats emerging, especially from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is entering his fourth season.
I see guys taking more of a leadership role on the team than I have since Ive been here, Houston said. Suhs talking more. Hes more of a leader. You can see it trickle down. Everybodys holding each other more accountable. I think thats the biggest thing.
Houston described the difference that hes seen in Suh, who had developed a reputation for keeping to himself much of the time.
He texted a lot of us during the off-season, Houston said. He came up with leadership roles, what we can talk about as a group instead of having the coaches come together and talk to us, telling us what we need to do. We address that before the coaches do.
I think thats what leaders do. Dont wait on the coach to get on us but a person in the locker room stands up and gets on the team. He did that. Hes taking Ziggy under his wing. Him and Nick Fairley are real close. Its great to see. Hes taking on a big role.
Put it all together and what will the impact be for the defense?
This year is going to be better, Houston promised.
NOT A NINJA
Receiver Matt Willis, trying to win one of the final roster spots, celebrated his touchdown the other night by doing a karate chop.
Never again, he said.
No, that is not a regular thing. I was hustled into it by a good friend of mine, Mr. Nathan Burleson, Willis said, referring to his teammate, receiver Nate Burleson.
The karate chop was a reference to Willis appearance a couple years ago on the TV show American Ninja Warrior, which tests a person's athleticism.
I am not a ninja, said Willis, who spent the last four years with the Denver Broncos.
Thats just the name of the show. It has nothing to do with ninjas.
It was a great experience for me and that was that. I have no martial arts background.
Willis was eliminated after one appearance on the show, which can be seen here.
Houston missed Mondays practice because of a chronic migraine headache. He's had to deal with the problem since he was a kid.
My mother goes through it, my sister goes through it, Houston said. Its hereditary on my mothers side. I just suffer with them from time to time. The quicker I get to my medicine, the quicker it goes away.