Detroit Lions: Expect a much more athletic defense in 2021

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The new-look Detroit Lions defense under the direction of newly appointed defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is something fans will welcome with open arms.

It is apparent there will be one glaring difference between former head coach Matt Patricia’s defense and that of Glenn’s; athleticism.  Patricia, of course, had a New England-like vision for the Detroit Lions defense but with one thing missing. Similar talent.

While the Patriots were adding a new wave of talent, Bob Quinn and Patricia continued to salivate over New England castaways.  And anyone of similar talent, management severed the relationships.

Take, for example, Darius Slay, Damon Harrison, and Quandre Diggs, all of which played a vital role on the defensive side of things.  Quinn and Patricia also elected to draft linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round of the draft stating they didn’t want a sideline to sideline linebacker; they wanted a thumper.

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Only Patricia would want a thumper when the league had already shifted to multi-dimensional three-down linebackers that can scream all over the football field, making plays.  There are numerous examples we could use around the league but look at the Super Bowl Champs.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers deploy Lavonte David and Devin White, both hyper-athletic linebackers that play in all situations.  Patricia surely hoped to add the next Dont’a Hightower, when selecting Tavai but that would never be the case.

The Detroit Lions are expected to deploy a much more athletic defense than we’ve been used to under Aaron Glenn.

Recently Glenn mentioned that Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara would spend most of their time as stand-up outside linebackers in Detroit’s new base 3/4 look.  The only time they may be found with their hand in the dirt will be in ‘sub’ formations which are usually used on third down or sure passing situations.

In the article by Freep linked above, Glenn explains;

"“I’m excited for the different schemes that I can be able to create with the guys that we have,” Glenn said. “We have size, we have speed, we have length. So you could use that in a number of different directions. We can be in base and get to a personnel package that you guys will see at some point.”“That’s one of my scheme philosophies anyway,” Glenn said. “You want to have a functional scheme, but you got to have versatile players and we’ve created that, even within the back end. We’re big in the back end with Iffy that’s coming in. There’s a number of things that we can do with that player also. So I’m excited about who we got, I’m excited about who we drafted, I’m excited about the go-for that we have right now.”"

It’s a new Lions regime that clearly focused on the defensive side of the football, and primarily re-tooling its front seven in year one.  Detroit added veteran Michael Brockers plus drafted Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill.

Brockers, McNeill, and second-year man John Penisini will command their fair share of double teams inside, allowing the Okwara brothers, Flowers, and Jamie Collins to eat in pass-rush situations.

Also, knowing the organization wants to get more athletic, the aforementioned Tavai has arrived at OTA’s looking like an entirely different person.  Last we saw Tavai; he was nearly 270-pounds; now he’s sub-250.

I expect to see progress from Detroit’s youthful corners but also a player like Tracy Walker.  Walker may excel playing a centerfield-type role as a deep safety rather than being often exposed in man-to-man coverage.

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As Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell mentioned shortly after accepting the job, the Lions have talent but the pieces just need to be utilized the correct way.  Here’s hoping.