Lions Will Emphasize Defense During Off-Season

With the addition of Dick Jauron as defensive coordinator, look for Detroit to supplement some very good moves on the defensive side of the ball (Dre' Bly, Boss Bailey and Terrence Holt) from last year, with more this offseason.  Let's take a look at the players the Lions will likely target.

ALLEN PARK) - As the Lions introduced their prized catch of the offseason, former Bears head coach Dick Jauron as their new defensive coordinator, a sense of pride was clearly evident on the face of Lions head coach Steve Mariucci.

Mariucci had convinced the most in-demand defensive coordiantor prospect in the NFL to join him on the sidelines in Detroit.

The price?  While Jauron will be one of the highest paid coordinators in the NFL at just under $1 million per season (with most of it being paid by the Chicago Bears, thank you very much) they clearly are willing to turn nearly complete control of the defense to Jauron.

The first sign of this was the hiring of former All Pro defensive lineman Larry Brooks as the defensive line coach.

Detroit passed on former Oakland Raiders coach Mike Waufle and made Greg Blache their first choice because Jauron was comfortable and familiar with Blache.  When Blache took the money and ran to the Washington Redskins, Jauron recommended his second choice, Larry Brooks, and Mariucci announced his signing on the same day that they announced Jauron's.  

Mariucci laughed when I asked him if he had promised Jauron that the first round pick would be a defensive player.  "We'll look at a number of guys," Mariucci chuckled.

Still, look for Detroit to supplement some very good moves on the defensive side of the ball (Dre' Bly, Boss Bailey and Terrence Holt) last year, with more this offseason.  Let's take a look at the players the Lions will likely target.

1. CORNER:  Ahmed Plummer (49ers),  Antonie Winfield (Bills).
Detroit would have loved to make linebacker Boss Bailey's dream come true by reuniting him with his brother Champ.  But unless Washington elects not to put the franchise tag on Champ, that dream isn't going to happen.  Plummer is someone who Mariucci is familiar with and at 27 years old would be a perfect complement to Dre' Bly.   Look for Plummer to be the Lions top target.

Winfield could be the best bargain of the bunch, a prolific tackler (109) and a solid corner with plenty of good years ahead of him.  At 26, he'd be a long term solution for Detroit.

2. DEFENSIVE END: Bertrand Berry (Broncos), Jevon Kearse (Titans), Grant Winstrom (Rams).
If acquiring a running back is Detroit most pressing need, defensive end can't be far behind.  Detroit's pass rush has been non-existent, putting way too much pressure on the secondary.  

Two players, Bertrand Berry of the Denver Broncos (12 sacks) and Jevon Kearse (9 1/2) will show up on Detroit's radar screen.  After positing 6 1/2 sacks last year, the Notre Dame grad had a breakout season this year just in time to reap the benefits.  

With Robert Porcher at the end of the line and James Hall a free agent the team would like to resign, they need an influx of talent here to take the pressure off the secondary. With Kearse the #1 target of the free spending Redskins, Berry would be a great addition to the Lions.  

If not, then Detroit needs to grab pass rusher deluxe Kenichi Udeze of Souther Cal with the 6th overall pick.

3. PUNTER:  Dan Stryzinski (Jets), Darren Bennett (Jags) Jason Baker (Chiefs).

Don't laugh.  If John Jett is done, and it appears he could be, Detroit needs to address this position.  Nothing changes field position more than a punter who can bury a team inside its own 20, just ask the Carolina Panthers who franchised punter Todd Sauerbrun a year ago.

Ohio State's B. J. Sander, who dropped 48% of his punts inside the 20 and had on 36% of his punts returned at all is a guy who could warrant a fourth round selection.  Detroit was hurt badly by the poor punting of free agent signee Nick Harris.  Free agent Dan Stryzinski (Jets), Darren Bennett (Jags) and Jason Baker (Chiefs) might be stopgaps fill-ins if free agent Jett cannot return or isn't re-signed.

4. LINEBACKER:  Ian Gold (Broncos), Dhani Jones (Giants), Carlos Emmons (Philadelphia).
Detroit made a foolish move along 25-year old Chris Claiborne, an outstanding young player walk and attempting to replace him with an aging Earl Holmes.  While their production was similar this year, what happens in the years to come?  Detroit also must make a decision on speedy Barrett Green.   The Lions only need to add one linebacker regradless of Green's status.  

Replacing Green would be easy if they could land Dhani Jones, just three years into what appears to be an oustanding career on the weakside.  Jones broke out with 118 tackles and  three sacks.  Ian Gold, a native of Belleville, MI, would also fit nicely in the middle and would likely be cheap after coming off an injury plagued (torn ACL) season.   Detroit could offset their cap cost by waiving goodbye to Green and Wali Rainer.  James Davis is a young player who appears ready for a larger role in the defense.

Four moves, along with the new defensive staff could move Detroit into the upper echelon of defenses in the NFC.  If so, the flip side could be a one-and-done tenure for Jauron in Detroit.  "That is a legitimate question," said Mariucci when I asked if he was worried that Jauron would only be around a season.   "Dick is a very capable coach, and a very capable head coach.  We considered that possibility.  We were willing to live with it."

Despite the offensive outbursts by two defensive minded teams, this season proved that a solid defense combined with a couple of offensive playmakers can carry a team a long way.  The Lions are listening and appear poised to slant their offseason program toward the opposite side of the ball.

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