Lions Defense Class of NFC North

The Detroit Lions are probably a year away from being a legitimate playoff contender in the rapidly changing NFC. But if they are sniffing around the playoffs in 2004, it will be largely because of a defense that has been rebuilt with talent and speed. Lions' insider Mike Fowler breaks down the defense.

(ALLEN PARK) - The Detroit Lions are probably a year away from being a legitimate playoff contender in the rapidly changing NFC. But if they are sniffing around the playoffs in 2004, it will be largely because of a defense that has been rebuilt with talent and speed.

While it took a while to get it done, Detroit has the most talent of NFC North division team on defense and if they can get immediate contributions from some newcomers, the Lions just might be a factor in the wild card race. Here's a look at how the playing groups stack up for Detroit

5.Defensive ends: James Hall is coming off his best year as a Lion after recording 4 1/2 sacks, but he needs to take the next step to become a reliable every down impact player. No player has more question marks next to his name than Kalimba Edwards. Edwards, who has been hampered for nearly two years by the effects of a "sports hernia" says he expects to be 100%. Edwards is the prototype speed rusher off the edge, but might be better suited to playing the weak side linebacker position he manned at South Carolina. He has to show he can get to the passer again and play at least some against the run. Veteran Robert Porcher, in what is likely his last NFL season before moving to the front office, will provide backup support. Meanwhile, second year prospect Cory Redding will stand waiting in the wings if Hall or Edwards falters.

4. Safeties: This is still the one area Detroit hasn't addressed substantially and it could come back to bite them. Sure the Lions signed veteran Brock Marion away from Miami, but Marion has been around the block a few times and isn't the same player he was in years past. Then there are those nasty fraud allegations hanging over his head. Brian Walker hasn't lived up to expectations after also arriving from Miami. The future belongs to young Terrence Holt who'll likely be in the playing rotation before the year is over. Detroit needs a prime time player patrolling the deep secondary.

3. Linebacker: There are question marks at this position, including finding out if rookie Teddy Lehmann is ready to assume the role as the starting middle linebacker. If not, Detroit will depend upon steady but aging Earl Holmes who will likely split time with Lehmann. James Davis has been penciled into the weak side linebacker position vacated by Barrett Green. Davis has the talent but is untested. The strong side is in the capable hands of speedy Boss Bailey. If Davis and Lehmann can produce, Detroit will be tough to score against.

2. Defensive tackles: This is a solid group with pro bowl type player Shaun Rogers and solid Dan Wilkinson not only stuffing the run game, but getting to the passer in spurts. Veteran Kelvin Pritchett remains to add depth and newly acquired Marcus Bell is a prospect to watch.

1. Cornerbacks: Dre' Bly is the best corner in the league bar none. Fernando Bryant will make a solid No. 2 and figures to get a lot of opportunities as opposing offenses veer away from Bly. The two will be backed up a group consisting of former starters Chris Cash and Andre Goodman and talented Rod Babers. Detroit is rock solid at this position.

Detroit will continue to look for opportunities to upgrade itself at the safety and end positions, particularly, but as a whole this unit stacks up as the best in the NFC North.

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