A few days ago, the excellent Chrissie Wywrot of the official Lions site penned a piece on embattled safety Daniel Bullocks. It almost seemed like a direct challenge to recent articles by Mlive.com’s Tom Kowalski and the Detroit News’s John Niyo suggesting that Bullocks is simply not in the mix to start next to rookie Louis Delmas. Wywrot discloses something only hinted at before: Bullocks never really recovered from the blown ACL that sidelined him in 2007.
Safety play is something difficult for the HDTV-deprived fan to quantify (thanks, 4:3 aspect ratio!). We see the strong safety come up and lay the lumber, and we see big interceptions. Sometimes, on replays from alternate angles, we can see a safety get beat deep. However, unlike front-seven defenders, it’s impossible for the average fan to simply watch a safety for a snap, or series of snaps, to see how they’re doing. Therefore, when it comes to ‘grading out’ a safety, we’re beholden to those who have access to game film. Kowalski’s sources tell him that Bullocks’ angles were all wrong in 2008, and that the fluidity, quickness, and aggressiveness he displayed in 2006 appeared to be “gone”. Killer added that when a defense gives up many long runs (as the Lions did in 2008), that’s often the result of poor safety play.
Interestingly, the Niyo piece I linked above appears to have been edited. Here is the original quote, as snagged from The Den, Scout.com’s Lions forum: Correction: the below quote is actually from rotoworld.com, adding their own analysis to Niyo's. The article linked above is apparently as it was first published.
“Gerald Alexander and Kalvin Pearson split time at strong safety with the Lions first-team defense during Tuesday's minicamp. While rookie Louis Delmas is locked in at free safety, the new coaching staff has been less than content with its option at strong safety. They no longer see Daniel Bullocks as a starter, and free agent Marquand Manuel was recently brought on board as another option.”
This jibes with the other reports: the post-trade safety pecking order has Pearson and Manuel splitting time with the ones—but Pearson is thought of as a valuable backup, but too athletically limited to be a starter in the Lions’ new symmetrical defense. This leaves the door wide open for Bullocks—but Bullocks has to recover his physical skills, rebuild his confidence in those skills, learn the new system, and then incorporate it all, so he can play as aggressively and instinctually as he did his rookie year. Both from published reports, and my talks with some folks in the know, it sounds like he’s got about 1.5 out of 4 down pat right now—and an uphill climb to be relevant this fall.