By most accounts, the Detroit Lions 2016 offseason has been a successful, if not earth shattering. Gone are Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, and with them the last vestiges of the dark period in the team’s history when Matt Millen crippled the franchise with his inept management of the roster. In their place is a man named Bob Quinn, who the Lions signed as their new GM, stealing him away from the New England Patriots’ organization. He has proven to be a prudent team manager and seems to have the franchise headed in the right direction.
Faced with the loss of Calvin Johnson, one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of the NFL, Quinn acted quickly by signing Marvin Jones, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. While no one man can replace the monster they call Megatron, the fact is that Jones was the best option on the market and provides a nice, sure-handed, one-two-punch, along with Golden Tate.
Bob Quinn also made good on his promise to improve the offensive line, by selecting offensive tackle, Taylor Decker out of Ohio State in the first round of the NFL draft last week. He also added a former rival of Decker, the center out of Michigan, Graham Glasgow in the third round. Decker should start at right tackle from day one and Glasgow should light a fire under the ass of the underachieving Travis Swanson.
So the offensive side of the ball is pretty set and seems to be in good hands. But what about the Lions’ defense?
This doesn’t seem so clear cut. The Lions lost starting cornerback Rasheen Mathis to retirement, and safeties James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus to free agency. They also haven’t made a move to re-sign defensive end Jason Jones and announced that they would eventually cut middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, though he still remains on the roster.
In the trenches moves were made to re-sign an aging Haloti Ngata and a question mark (due to being injured most of last season) in Tyrunn Walker at defensive tackle. The team also signed Stefan Charles and drafted what lookd like a 45 year old man, Kimbo Slice impersonator and second round steal, A’Shawn Robinson to join an already crowded middle of the trenches along with Caruan Reid and Gabe Wright. That’s a lot of big boys in the middle of the defense.
What they haven’t done is pay much attention to the defensive end position. The team still has standout Ziggy Ansah, as well as Devin Taylor, both of whom are slated to start at this point. While Ansah is an obvious starter, I’m not so sure about Devin Taylor. He has developed into a solid rotational player in his three years since being drafted out of South Carolina, but he has never been a starter and I would be more comfortable with him in a backup role. Behind those two are Kerry Hyder and Wallace Gilberry, who don’t exactly inspire fear in the hearts of opposing offensive linemen.
Why so much attention given to the defensive tackle position and seemingly so little to the defensive ends? I think the answer may have something to do with a shifting of defensive philosophy by the team and their defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Historically, the team has run a 4-3 defense with four down linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs. This has been a pretty standard defensive set for most of the history of football. The team has given the indication that they may begin running a lot more of a base nickel package like they did in the year that Stephen Tulloch hurt his knee by doing the discount double check. This involves running with five defensive backs and two linebackers, and would give the team a chance to showcase second year nickelback Quandre Diggs. But I think the team may be headed in the direction of using the 3-4 defense.
Perhaps some of the many defensive tackles on the roster are indeed slated to play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Robinson and Walker could easily slide in at defensive end in the new scheme and, in theory, Ziggy could switch to being a pass rush specialist at the outside linebacker position. I’m sure many people, like me, have reservations about moving someone who is still relatively new to the game of football, and just now starting to get a strong grasp on his current position, to a new spot in the defense but with Ansah’s size, speed and athleticism, I think it just might work.
That would leave Kyle Van Noy to play the other outside linebacker and DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead in the middle, with all the other defensive linemen and linebackers as reserves and rotational pieces. If Van Noy (this is a big if) can show a bit of development from last season this could be a pretty scary front seven with a ton of speed and athleticism. I can just see Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Teddy Bridgewater shaking in their cleats.
None of us really know whats going to happen with the team until we get to training camp but hey, what else do we have to do in May but speculate about our favorite teams. While I’m not a huge proponent of the 3-4 defense, I’m a big fan of doing whatever it takes to win football games and destroy the opposing quarterback (I’m looking at you, Rodgers). And if making some changes in the defensive scheme is the best way to do that, then I have full faith in the judgement of Teryl Austin. Let’s just hope that he knows what he’s doing with this group because there is too much talent on this roster to justify another year without a trip to the playoffs.