Lions appear to be thin on talent at cornerback

LARRY LAGE AP Sports Writer Published:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Lions appear to be thin on talent at cornerback, counting on veteran Rashean Mathis and second-year pro Darius Slay to be starters.

Behind them, only Cassius Vaughn has significant experience in the NFL.

"Every team can't be balanced," Mathis said after Tuesday's practice. "If people think we're a weakness now, hopefully they change their mind by the end of the season."

Detroit's cornerbacks will face opponents for the first time this year on Saturday night at home against the Cleveland Browns in an exhibition game.

Mathis believes Slay is ready to be a first-string player in his second season, replacing Chris Houston, who was cut in June because the team did not know when he would recover from foot surgery.

"He's up for the challenge," Mathis said. "Once he has the fire under his feet, we'll see how he reacts because he'll be facing some of the most talented players in the world. Last year, it was easy to get him to waver because he was a rookie.

Slay, a second-round pick last year, started the first two games of his NFL career and two games late in the season. He responded, "Oh yeah," when asked if he was eager to be in the spotlight opposite Mathis. After some growing pains, getting down on himself after giving up receptions, he feels ready to compete against the best.

The Lions decided not to commit a lot of money toward improving their situation at cornerback during the offseason, re-signing Mathis to a one-year deal in April, and adding Vaughn and Aaron Hester as free agents.

The Lions drafted three cornerbacks two years ago, taking Bill Bentley in the third, Chris Greenwood the fifth and Jonte Green the sixth. And, none of them have panned out.

When Slay walked off the field Monday with a neck injury, Vaughn replaced him. He was not surprised to get the nod after starting in 18 games over his first four seasons in the league with Indianapolis and Denver.

Bengals offense looks for edge

CINCINNATI -- Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict has felt a difference in the Bengals offense during training camp: It's leaving a mark.

Intent on running the ball a lot more, Cincinnati has been trying to hone more of an edge to its offense. First-year coordinator Hue Jackson wants it to take the field with an attitude.

Burfict has noticed.

"They're more physical," Burfict said. "I'm a little more sore this year."

The Bengals have made it to the playoffs each of the past three seasons on the strength of their defense, which has finished in top seven in the league each of those years. Cincinnati ranked No. 3 overall in yards allowed last season.

The offense has improved in each of quarterback Andy Dalton's first three seasons, moving up from No. 22 to No. 10 last season. But most of that is linked to the passing game, which gained more prominence as Dalton matured.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden got the head coaching job in Washington after the season. Jackson was promoted to coordinator and made it clear the Bengals would run the ball more -- they've finished 19th, 18th and 18th in rushing the past three seasons.

He's been trying to foster a hard-edged attitude on an offense known more for A.J. Green's acrobatic catches.

Browns DB's sport boxing gloves

BEREA -- The Browns are ready to rumble.

To prepare for the NFL's crackdown on defensive holding this season, the team is making its cornerbacks and safeties wear boxing gloves during training camp practices. The smaller, mittenlike gloves -- used by kickboxers and in mixed martial arts -- are meant to deter players from latching onto jerseys of wide receivers, an allowable tactic in the past but one that will draw a penalty flag now.

When he first saw the padded gloves, Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden didn't know what to think.

Not long after putting them on, Haden was beaten on a long pass by wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who came back on his route to haul in a throw from rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. Haden tried to get his hand on the ball, but the glove didn't allow him to tip it away. Haden, though, understands the cross-sport technology.

Browns coach Mike Pettine hopes the gloves can help retrain defensive backs from clutching and snatching anything they get their hands on.

Gilbert has made strides during camp, but he's yet to lock up a starting job. He's listed behind Skrine on Cleveland's first depth chart, but Gilbert wants to change that.

Hoyer back with first team

BEREA -- Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer is back with Cleveland's first-string offense after spending a day behind rookie Johnny Manziel.

Hoyer took the initial snaps in 11-on-11 drills with the starters on Tuesday. Manziel got his first work in training camp with the Browns' first string on Monday, a move that led to speculation he had gained ground on Hoyer.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Manziel's one-day promotion was part of the plan as Cleveland's coaching staff evaluates the two quarterbacks who are competing for the starting job. Pettine has not officially chosen his starter for Saturday's exhibition opener in Detroit, but said it will likely be Hoyer.

Manziel, the popular first-round pick, appeared to close the gap on Hoyer following a solid performance in a scrimmage last weekend in Akron.

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