Fixing the Lions: Defensive analysis

With free-agency and the draft around the corner, Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli is looking for a certain kind of player -- especially on the defensive side of the ball -- and it doesn't always involve a big name. Eventual replacements for Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant will also have to be considered. Much more inside.

In all likelihood, the Lions will be busy in the off-season, both in the free-agent market and on draft day. Now that coach Rod Marinelli knows what he has and what he still needs, he and president Matt Millen have a lengthy shopping list.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Lions will make a big splash on the first day of free agency or even that they will use the No. 2 pick in the draft. Marinelli is looking for a certain kind of player -- especially on the defensive side of the ball -- and it doesn't always involve a big name. He wants players who are committed to the game, will work relentlessly and can fill a specific role in his defense.

Although the Lions have not drafted particularly well under Millen, he has done a good job of maximizing his draft choices via trades. Considering the team needs, don't be surprised if he trades down for additional picks again this year.

On defense, the most pressing needs include a strong pass rusher, a stud middle linebacker and yet more help in the defensive secondary.

Below is a unit-by-unit analysis of Detroit's current position situation on defense ...

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Jared DeVries, NT Shaun Rogers, UT Cory Redding, RE James Hall. Backups -- DE Corey Smith, DE Kalimba Edwards, DT Anthony Bryant, DT Cleveland Pinkney, DT Tyoka Jackson, DT Shaun Cody, DT Marcus Bell, DE Bill Swancutt.
The Lions defensive line would be best described as a disaster area. They lost three starters -- Rogers, Cody and Hall -- to injuries as well as two backups -- Bell and Swancutt. They struggled to stop the run and DE Kalimba Edwards again failed to live up to expectations as a pass rusher. The only bright spot was the play of Redding, who was moved inside from DLE and played like a man possessed. He led the team with eight QB sacks and was tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 70, playing so well that he is likely to retain the starting job in 2007. The biggest disappointment was the biggest man on the d-line -- Rogers, the two-time Pro Bowl player who played inconsistently early in the season, then was suspended for four games for testing positive to a banned substance during training camp and finally went to injured reserve after having arthroscopic knee surgery. Hall and Cody, two blue collar workers, also were victims of injuries. DeVries, thrust into a starting job, was solid and Smith, Bryant and Jackson earned themselves a look when the Lions return to camp.

FIX: The first order of business for the Lions is to re-sign Cory Redding before the versatile defensive lineman checks out during the free-agency period. Once Redding is locked in (which could literally happen with a franchise tag designation), the Lions have to find a pass rush specialist. Detroit has lacked a true pass rusher since Robert Porcher's glory days. Whether it has been injuries (see: James Hall), disappointment (see: Kalimba Edwards) or questionable draft decisions (see: Matt Millen), the team hasn't fielded an every down specialist that can be depended upon to reach the quarterback. Depending on how they perform in combines and their individual Pro Days, Arkansas' Jamaal Anderson or Clemson's Gaines Adams could be considered with the No. 2 overall pick, although one of the two will likely be around later in the first round should Detroit trade down. Free-agency could also be an option, where the Colts' Dwight Freeney might be on the market. The presence of new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who mirrors head coach Rod Marinelli's Cover 2 philosophy, will also help considerably with the interior of the line.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Alex Lewis, MLB Paris Lenon, WLB Ernie Sims. Backups -- Boss Bailey, Teddy Lehman, Donte' Curry, Anthony Cannon.
For three years, the Lions worked at piecing together a set of quick, speedy, athletic linebackers but the only one who really showed them he belonged in 2006 was rookie Ernie Sims, their first-round draft pick. He started all 16 games, showed the athletic ability and hitting ability they expected, and led the team with 144 tackles. The rest of the LB crew remains a disappointing mystery. Lenon, an off-season free agent acquisition, was second to Sims in tackles with 97 but, like the rest of the Lions, too many of his tackles came at the end of a five-yard gain. The experiment to move Bailey to MLB was a failure, Lewis showed he can cover a lot of ground but doesn't make a lot of plays and Lehman cannot seem to get healthy and stay healthy. Without DT Shaun Rogers in front of them, the Lions LBs were not effective stopping the run.

FIX: Another year of the Marinelli learning curve with a young core of linebackers will help, but there remains a gap in the middle. Paris Lenon is serviceable, but not an NFL-quality starter, forcing the Lions to review their options this off-season. The team could consider experimenting once again with Boss Bailey in the middle; a full training camp with a more sound defense could help. Or, the more likely scenario, having a healthy Teddy Lehman patrol the middle. The Lions will consider both options, but will also review their options in free-agency. Because of a lack of first-round talent at the MLB position, the team won't look for its starter from within the college ranks.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Fernando Bryant, RCB Dre' Bly, FS Terrence Holt, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups -- S Daniel Bullocks, CB Jamar Fletcher, CB Stanley Wilson, CB Keith Smith, S Jon McGraw, CB Dee McCann.
After going to the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons with the Lions, Bly's star appears to have flamed out. He had only three interceptions, was beaten more often than ever before and was not strong or aggressive in run support. Yet, he was the Lions best CB and one of the few defensive playmakers on the roster. Bryant, who finished the previous two years on injured reserve, again had injury problems, missing the final four games with after effects of a concussion; in three seasons with the Lions he has played just 22 games and has no interceptions. Holt is limited but plays hard and led the secondary in tackles (76). Kennedy missed six games with injuries and still has not provided the strong physical impact the Lions need from SS. Bullocks got a lot of experience as a rookie and Wilson finished strong when he stepped in for Bryant as the starting LCB for the final month of the season.

FIX: With Bly and Bryant entering the downside of their careers, respectively, the Lions will look to the draft -- possibly in the second and third rounds -- to snag a defensive back. Texas cornerback Aaron Ross (6-1, 192) is an interesting prospect, as is Arkansas' Chris Houston (5-11, 188) and Maryland speedster Josh Wilson (5-9, 187, 4.34-40). Each are considered second-to-third round picks. Michigan's Leon Hall is a distinct possibility, but not at No. 2 overall.


Lions Report Top Stories