Lions Defense Will Be Intensive

As training camp approaches, an aggressive game plan -- devised by defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson -- awaits the Detroit Lions defense. Unlike the past, Henderson plans on taking full advantage of Detroit's youth and speed.

ALLEN PARK - Ask Donnie Henderson how aggressive he will be as the Lions' new defensive coordinator and there's a good chance he'll roll his eyes, get a silly grin on his face and shake his head.

"Me?" he's likely to ask. "Who told you anything like that?"

The fact is Henderson -- with the approval of head coach Rod Marinelli -- is likely to run the most aggressive defense the Lions have seen in years, possibly since the days of Alex Karras and Joe Schmidt in the 1960s.

Henderson wants to find ways to get after the quarterback, even though the Lions are not blessed with a marquee pass rusher, and Marinelli's influence is almost certain to be seen on the defensive line, the area he developed as a position coach at Tampa Bay before being hired as the Lions' head coach in January.

The Lions will have a number of changes in their defense -- a shakeup in the linebackers with Boss Bailey expected to surface at middle linebacker, the departure of defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson with Shaun Cody considered the heir apparent, the arrival of first-round draft pick Ernie Sims who some have compared favorably to a young Derrick Brooks, and a new look in the secondary with Fernando Bryant back to full health.

Bailey has battled injuries during his first three NFL seasons, but Henderson likes his speed and athletic ability, and will probably move Bailey from the Sam position to the Mike.

Wilkinson apparently isn't ready to hang up his cleats after 12 NFL seasons but had reservations about starting over with a new, gung-ho coaching staff. So the Lions released him, clearing the way for the younger, more active Cody to step into full-time duty.

The secondary will certainly be younger than it was a year ago with the departure of R.W. McQuarters and Andre Goodman during free agency. Bryant is likely to join Dre' Bly as the starting cornerbacks and two youngsters -- Keith Smith and Stanley Wilson -- will be expected to move into nickel and dime roles.

The biggest influence on the defense, however, is at the top with Marinelli and Henderson.

"It reminds me of my first couple years in the league with (Tom) Coughlin," Bryant said. "The pace and the intensity and the coaching that you're getting is remarkable. It's in your face, what you're supposed to do, no exceptions. No mistakes are tolerated. It's good."


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