Detroit Lions defensive backs Ross Weaver, left, and Amari Spievey drill during NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions defensive backs were the last players to get off the field when the team wrapped up Day 1 of its mandatory minicamp.
Cornerbacks Chris Houston and Aaron Berry walked toward the locker room, and were given post-practice pointers from secondary coach Tim Walton.
The Lions have generated a lot of excitement with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson leading the offense and Ndamukong Suh anchoring the defense, but it will be difficult for them to improve upon last season's performance if their defensive backs don't get better.
Berry knows that.
"For us to take the next step and be what we want to be as a team, we have to get better in the secondary," Berry said Tuesday. "The secondary has to play big because this has become a passing league these days."
When the Lions have the ball, that's good news. When they don't, not so much. Detroit earned a playoff spot last year for the first time since the 1999 season thanks in large part to Stafford staying healthy and throwing for 5,000-plus yards. The Lions hurt their chances of winning a playoff game for the second time since 1957 by giving up 946 yards passing and nine passing touchdowns over their last two games.
Berry insisted those games against Green Bay, in the final regular season game, and New Orleans in the postseason twisted the reality about Detroit's defensive backs.
"If you look at the first 12 or 13 games, we were up near the top of the league in pass defense," Berry said. "But then we had some injuries that hurt us pretty bad. If we stay healthy, we can do what we have to do."
Staying healthy has been the No. 1 obstacle in Berry's way during his first two seasons in the league. His banged-up right shoulder and a groin injury limited him to 12 games, including the wild-card loss to the Saints, and he played only one game as an undrafted rookie out of Pittsburgh in 2010 because he needed surgery on the same shoulder.
"If I stay healthy, the sky is the limit," he said.
Coach Jim Schwartz said the 5-foot-11 Berry weighs almost 190 pounds after adding 10 pounds of muscle this offseason in the hopes of staying healthy. Lions receiver Nate Burleson said he has faith in Berry's ability to take on a larger role because he has more confidence to go along with his physical gifts.
"He's a lot more comfortable within his own skin," Burleson said. "He's a tremendous talent, very aggressive at the line of scrimmage. I don't think anybody that can bump coverage like him. That's truly an advantage. If you can master that and make that a strength in this league, you can shut down a lot of receivers."
Detroit is without only one key player from last season's team, losing cornerback Eric Wright to Tampa Bay in free agency, and didn't make a major move to replace him.
The Lions did add cornerback Jacob Lacey, who started 27 games for Indianapolis in three years, and three players at the position of need between the third and sixth rounds. Cornerback Alphonso Smith, who started one game last year and 10 the previous season, also is a candidate to compete with Berry to start opposite Houston.
"It's definitely a great opportunity and I definitely can't let them down," Berry said. "I'm trying to make the best of it to give them what they want."
Patriots claim Ballard
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots have claimed tight end Jake Ballard off waivers from the New York Giants.
Ballard, 24, spent two seasons with the Giants after being signed as a rookie free agent out of Ohio State in 2010. He was released by the Giants Monday after he failed a physical. Ballard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Giants' Super Bowl victory over New England in February.
In his second pro season, Ballard had 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns. He had five catches for 43 yards in the postseason before being injured.
Young sues former agent
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Vince Young is accusing his former agent and ex-financial adviser of cheating him out of at least $5.5 million the former first-round draft pick was supposed to have earned in his rookie contract and through endorsement deals.
In a lawsuit filed by the Buffalo Bills' new quarterback in Houston, Young alleges that Major Adams II and Ronnie T. Peoples breached their contracts by conspiring to commit fraud and misappropriate the player's funds.
Adams is a Houston-based attorney who served as Young's first agent in negotiating the five-year, $54 million contract the quarterback first signed after being selected with the third pick in the 2006 NFL draft by Tennessee.
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