ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Nevin Lawson was prepared for anything, although the Detroit Lions' rookie cornerback didn’t want the "anything" to really happen like this.
Ever since the Lions drafted him in the fourth round, Lawson had mentally prepared himself to be a starter, or at least a contributor, during his rookie season. He did so even if everything about him, from his size to his skill to the somewhat small Utah State school he attended, screamed that he’d be a developmental project.
That development needs to be quicker now. Bill Bentley’s season-ending injury means Lawson is about to play a whole lot.
“In my head, especially coming in as a rookie, it’s always to play and be the best that you can be,” Lawson said. “In my head, I always thought I could be a starter or eventually be a starter.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell committed to Lawson as his slot cornerback Friday, merely confirming what had appeared obvious from the time Bentley was put on injured reserve after he suffered a torn ACL against the New York Giants.
It was an immediate indoctrination to the NFL for Bentley, who was forced to match up against one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, Victor Cruz, when he was put into the game for 49 snaps against the Giants.
Considering the circumstances and that the Lions were planning on using him exclusively on special teams Monday night, he handled it well.
“We weren’t planning on him playing a whole bunch,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “… Nevin went in there and the thing we talk to our guys about is they are always one play away, and I think that’s a testament to what Tony [Oden] and Alan [Williams] are doing in the back end, teaching those guys.
“That a young guy who wasn’t supposed to play or people thought he wasn’t ready to play went in there and played well. They did a great job with him.”
The competent play came in pass coverage, too. Pro Football Focus charted Lawson as being targeted four times by New York quarterback Eli Manning, allowing three completions. One was a 20-yard reception to Cruz, according to PFF, but that was the only pass Cruz caught against the rookie.
Lawson, for his first go-round, will take that. He’ll also take the experience facing Cruz in his debut will give him both this week against Carolina and the rest of the season, where he’s likely to stay in the nickel role.
“It definitely helps,” Lawson said. “It’s game experience and going against good quarterbacks and good receivers like that definitely helps you to move forward into the next week, to help your preparation.
“[Such as] 'OK, I should do this better and I did this good, so I can keep on doing this.' It definitely helps.”