2020 Detroit Lions Roster Preview: What the defense and specialists offer

Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Da'Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Kevin Strong, Detroit Lions
Kevin Strong, Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

With the Detroit Lions soon coming together as a full team, it’s time to take an in-depth look at the defense and specialists.

Last week, the offense for the Detroit Lions was looked at closely and overall it looks like a solid unit. The offensive line will need to live up to their potential but just about every other position looked encouraging.

Now, it’s time to give the defense a once-over and figure out if what was one of the league’s worst defenses last year has a rebound in store for us all this year. There’s raw talent at every position and general manager Bob Quinn has made strong efforts to fix the defense by using premium draft picks on defenders and spending big to ensure proven talent comes to Detroit in free agency.

This year especially Quinn went out and spent a lot of money on defenders across all levels of the field. From multiple interior linemen to a linebacker to a cornerback replacement for Darius Slay, Quinn made obvious efforts to bring in talent for head coach Matt Patricia to use.

A couple of those important additions came on the defensive line, and that’s where this defensive preview begins.

Detroit Lions Defensive Roster Preview: Interior Defensive Line

This is a position group that has not been great for the Lions the past few years. They have rarely been able to get consistent pressure and had just one eight-game span two years ago where they were regularly dominant against the run.

Needing a few additions in free agency after having a bad season of performances from many of the interior linemen, Quinn went out and brought in a couple of guys who compliment each other on the inside.

Looking to improve against the run-game, defensive tackle Danny Shelton was brought in to help plug up the middle of the line. Big and strong, Shelton can collapse and stuff both A-gaps at the same time. He is stout and won’t often be moved out of the way once he can drop his anchor, even when he’s confronted by a double-team.

Shelton is a lock to be on the team and should be the starting nose tackle for the Lions this year. The other new addition to the team is former Chicago Bear, Nick Williams. Williams is a very welcome addition because he brings what no other defensive lineman could provide for the Lions last year; interior pressure.

Williams had six sacks last year and also hit the quarterback an additional nine times and ended the year with a total of 27 pressures, which would have been the most on the Lions team last year by 17 pressures. Williams should make a weekly impact by pressuring the opposing quarterback and forcing him to get rid of the ball more quickly, thereby helping the secondary out some as well.

After those two, it gets a little more interesting to see who could make the team. Despite being an undrafted free agent not too long ago, Kevin Strong got some playing time last year and looked more in place than some long-time veterans did. As his name suggests, Strong packs a good bit of muscle on his frame and gives the Lions a solid depth option when the main contributors need some rest on the sideline.

Sixth-round pick John Penisini should be able to make the roster this year because he will provide the Lions with a great option behind Shelton. Penisini doesn’t bring much of a pass-rush, but he was still one of the most dominant run-defenders in college football last year.

With just Shelton to provide that right now, Penisini gives the Lions the ability to put two strong run defenders on the field at the same time in seemingly obvious run situations. A line of Shelton, Penisini, Flowers, and Da’Shawn Hand all inside the tackles at the one-yard line would be extremely difficult to penetrate on an inside run. So while they weren’t all that good last year, this position group has the potential to at least be a league-average defensive line, which would be a huge improvement over last year.

53-man roster prediction: Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand (DT/DE), Kevin Strong, John Penisini