ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- I caught myself thinking back to April as I watched the Detroit Lions' training camp practice Thursday morning. Back then, so many of you were bemoaning the Lions' draft-day decision to pass up a number of highly regarded cornerbacks in the second round in favor of receiver Ryan Broyles, whose short-term future was unclear as he rehabilitated a torn ACL. The fervor was strong enough that few noticed when the Lions grabbed Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Dwight Bentley one round later.
Things can have a funny way of working out.
Thursday, it became clear that Bentley has earned the chance to win a starting job opposite Chris Houston. After spending most of training camp as the Lions' third cornerback, joining the first team in nickel situations, Bentley has leapfrogged veterans Jacob Lacey and Alphonso Smith for the moment. It's expected he will start Friday night's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns, and coach Jim Schwartz left little doubt that Bentley has reached the cusp of an important opportunity.
"We wouldn't put somebody out there that's going to break down in coverage and doesn't know what to do, regardless of where we've drafted him," Schwartz said. "We've never been that team. You've got to earn your way on, and he's done a lot in training camp.
"This is an important stretch for him because you go from rookie camp, doing something there. [Organized team activities], doing something there. Training camp, making some plays there. And then you need to maintain that through preseason games. And then if you continue to see that, you feel a lot better going into the season. He's done well every step along the way. This is the next step for him."
Bentley is a bit on the small side, having measured a shade under 5-foot-10 at the NFL scouting combine and weighing in at 182 pounds. NFL scouts held him in mild regard until the Senior Bowl, where a strong performance raised him into a third-round prospect.
I never pretend to be a personnel expert, but amateur eyes can at least clue in to a player's general demeanor on the field and the reaction of coaches. All indications during two days of training camp are that Bentley knows what he's doing.
"I've just tried to be a student of the game, executing my plays and learning at the same time," he said. "You want to execute fast and play fast, and that's what I've got to do. I've had some great opportunities to showcase my talent, and I'm thankful for that."
Truth be told, Bentley's opportunity is tied to the Lions' late-July decision to release presumptive starter Aaron Berry. Sometimes, however, all a young player needs is a chance.
"No doubt," Bentley said. "My goal is to go out and solidify myself as a starter in this preseason. When we open the [regular] season against St. Louis, I want that to be me. So I've to go out and put it on the game film."
Note: The NFL lists Bentley as "Dwight" but he said he prefers his nickname, "Bill." So we'll start referring to him that way from now on.