Cornerback Bill Bentley has swagger back

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It never felt completely right for Detriot Lions cornerback Bill Bentley the past two seasons. It wasn't a comfort thing as he is never going to actually be comfortable. It was somewhat of a confidence thing.

He was still learning how to play cornerback in the NFL. He was trying to navigate the biggest and fastest wide receivers in the world while also trying to understand the position he had to play and the role in the slot he had to embrace.

It led to a season of barely playing as a rookie and then an inconsistent 2013, where a good game followed a poor one, where the mistakes happened week-after-week as he was figuring everything out.

Now, he understands, that can't happen anymore.

"I'm never going to get comfortable,” Bentley said. "It's just feeling myself a little bit, with swagger. That competitive nature, man, you know what I'm saying.

"Like knowing that, come on, man, it's my third year, I can't get beat no more. Can't keep getting beat on the same things.”

Bentley's improved confidence is obvious. When he's asked if he feels faster, stronger or more instinctual this offseason than he has during his first two years with the Lions, he spins the question back.

He's curious in the onlooker's opinion. The answer is he wouldn't be asked about it if it weren't necessarily true. He's curious, though, if he actually does look how he feels.

He does. While he's spent the majority of time in the nickel this offseason as well -- a place he spent the majority of last season as the Lions rotated cornerbacks on the outside all season long -- he realizes he needed to look like a more confident player.

"Definitely feel more instinctive,” Bentley said. "I put on a little weight so I feel stronger. I feel more comfortable coming into my own. Still learning the scheme, you know what I'm saying. Not where I want to be as a player mentally.

"Trying to just be smarter on the field and see things faster and react faster. Everything else is coming along.”

So is understanding the new defense implemented by coordinator Teryl Austin, a former defensive backs coach. The entire team, both offense and defense, are still learning the new schemes, but the defense has appeared to pick things up faster than the offense.

That includes Bentley, and it is all about the renewed confidence he last truly possessed in college.

"Last year, it wasn't really like my first year because I played my first year, but I didn't really play. So last year was kind of like sticking my feet back in the water," Bentley said. "So I didn't really get to drown my head in it.

"This year, I'm trying to put my whole head into it, my whole body into it and just take off like a rocket, man. Just trying to make more plays than ever, man."

Part of that is staying healthy.

During Bentley's rookie season, he played in four games and eventually ended up on injured reserve after shoulder surgery. Last season, he played in 13 games but had injuries, including a head injury that ended his season after a collision with Louis Delmas.

In an effort to stay healthy this season, he added some weight -- he wouldn't say how much -- and he spent his down time at home in Pahokee, Florida, at his mom's house. There, he would rest, get massages and work on straight-line running before he resumed training in the city known as Muck City.

He said his mom, Andrea, "babied me" while he was in Pahokee and took care of him as he did what he could to make sure he could play 16 games this season. He understands this is a massive year for him professionally. General manager Martin Mayhew has said if a cornerback can't pick up the nuances and make improvements by his third season in the league, he likely is never going to.

This is now Year Number Three for Bentley.

After two seasons with injuries, he needs to prove his place in the NFL. With a somewhat open competition at his position, he also realizes this might be his chance to move from a role player on the outside to a dependable NFL cornerback.