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Lions defense, among most porous in NFC, eager to shore up secondary

Chris Houston appears to have one of the cornerback spots locked up in the Detroit Lions' secondary and the franchise has several options on the other side of the field.

Bill Bentley, who missed most of last season with an injury, joins veteran Ron Bartell and rookie Darius Slay in a competition for the other starting job. No matter who gets it, Bartell, entering his ninth season, likes the group he'll be playing with.

"We're definitely battling out there, but there's a lot of depth here," he said Friday. "I feel like this can be a strong secondary."

The Lions allowed 437 points during last season's 4-12 run, third-worst in the NFC, and 233.1 passing yards per game.

Houston started last season's final 14 games after recovering from an injury and Bentley showed early promise but missed the final half of the season with a shoulder injury.

Bartell, who played the first seven years of his career in St. Louis, was signed late last season after Oakland released him. He started the season finale across the field from Houston.

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he's excited about having a healthy Bentley on the field to start camp.

"He was hurt and he was one of the few guys in my career that I've seen on the sidelines in practice every day studying and watching the whole organization," he said. "During the offseason, it was the same thing. He's out here and he knows what he's doing."

Houston had a pair of interceptions last season and Bartell knocked down a pass in his lone appearance with Detroit. Cunningham said he feels like he has more talent to work with this year, more than just up front, where the Lions' front four has generated most of the attention in seasons past.

Slay, selected in the second round of April's draft, also drew praise from Cunningham.

"He knows the game, he understands the game," he said. "Out here every day, it's really a unique situation to see him go against Calvin (Johnson). I kidded Darius this morning and asked him, 'Do you really know who he is?'"

Bartell, the most seasoned player in the secondary, doesn't mind being the old man of the group — or swapping stories with seven-year veteran Houston.

"We've both been through a lot," Bartell said. "There's a lot of times we can pick each other's brains and do what we can to help the younger guys."

Coach Jim Schwartz wouldn't call Bartell old — he prefers "veteran" — but said he's happy to have someone else to give the younger players a sense of perspective.

"He has a calming influence out there," he said. "He's out here competing every day but he's also trying to help the younger guys. You don't see him get rattled. Ron knows how to bounce back and be consistent. That's one of the things vets always bring."

The Lions play their exhibition opener Aug. 9 against the visiting New York Jets and begin the regular season Sept. 8 when Minnesota comes to town.