Borrowing from a strength
From everything we have seen and has been said, Aaron Glenn wants to put the best players he can on the field and put them in a position to succeed. In essence, that should be every coach’s goal, but as we learned under Patricia, it isn’t.
The middle of the Lions’ defense will see Jamie Collins teamed up with maybe Jahlani Tavai, Derrick Barnes, or Alex Anzalone who primarily tended to play the outside, but does have experience in the middle as well.
Collins is solid, but there isn’t much left at the position after him. Barnes looks to be one of the long-term answers, but we’re not sure if he’ll be ready for opening day. If not then Glenn will be counting on Tavai or Anzalone to hold down the fort. If they are able to, then Glenn’s decision to borrow from the Lions’ strength might pay off.
Glenn has already stated that Trey Flowers will be used at linebacker. In Flowers’ first season with the Patriots, he did some of the same. The concern is whether he can be adequate in coverage, but outside of that, it gives the Lions another solid run defender at the line of scrimmage and an effective edge-rusher.
On the other side, I think the forgotten Okwara brother, Julian, will see plenty of time. At Notre Dame Julian was basically an edge linebacker and demonstrated great speed and bend off the corner to get to the quarterback as well as the upside to be a productive outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense against the run. I expect Glenn to get much more out of him than Patricia did.
These moves can be made because there is still Romeo Okwara, Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, and John Penisini who will be the core of Aaron Glenn’s defensive line.
The question we all want the answer to is; will it work? From a positional standpoint, Anzalone seems to be the best pure all-around outside linebacker the Lions have, but he isn’t a game-changer. He is also only one player when two outside backers are needed.
Until Brad Holmes can acquire more talent to fill out the linebacker corps, mixing and matching is Glenn’s best option to improve the front seven. Will it work? We will see, but the use of Flowers and the younger Okwara will help bolster the pass-rush while Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be their best options in coverage.
The defense should be better this season just because of the change in philosophy. However, the ability to execute will still be the difference between just being marginally better and potentially being much better.
Ultimately more talent will be the real turning point for the Lions’ defense, but until then, Glenn’s idea to put the best players he has on the field will give the Honolulu Blue and Silver their best chance to make some noise on defense.