Drilling in: Defense
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Ziggy Ansah, DE Anthony Zettel, DT A'Shawn Robinson, DT Sylvester Williams, Backups - DE Kerry Hyder, DE Cornelius Washington, DE Cam Johnson, DE Jeremiah Valoaga, DT Da'Shawn Hand, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT Toby Johnson, DT Josh Fatu, Dt Christian Ringo, DT Jojo Wicker.
The Lions will mix up their looks on the defensive line this fall, playing both odd- and even-man fronts, but Ansah should be a staple at right defensive end no matter what they play - so long as he stays healthy. Ansah's tape didn't live up to his production last year, when nine of his 12 sacks came in three games, and it's imperative the Lions keep him in the lineup. Zettel had a nice 6.5-sack season last year, but he didn't touch an opposing quarterback after Thanksgiving, and Hyder is trying to return from a torn Achilles. Robinson and Williams give the Lions two behemoths in the middle, but the Lions are still waiting on Robinson to live up to the promise he showed at Alabama. Rookie fourth-round pick Hand is the type of versatile lineman the Lions want in their program. Expect Hand to play both end and tackle and see his snaps increase as the season goes on. There's still room for another veteran defensive lineman here as the Lions don't have great depth up front.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Devon Kennard, OLB Christian Jones, MLB Jarrad Davis. Backups - Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jonathan Freeny, Alex Barrett, Chad Meredith, Trevor Bates, Steve Longa, Al-Rasheed Benton.
No unit saw more change this offseason than the linebacking corps as the Lions signed Kennard and Jones early in free agency and plan to start both players alongside second-year middle linebacker Davis this fall. Kennard had four sacks in 11 starts for the New York Giants last year, and the Lions are counting on him adding a pass-rush element to the unit. He will start at strong-side linebacker, while Jones will move to the other outside spot after playing inside for the Chicago Bears last year. Davis, though, is the real key to the unit as the Lions expect him to take a big step forward in Year 2. He had an up and down rookie season, but showed tremendous promise and coaches rave about his intangibles. Freeny played parts of the 2015-17 seasons for Patricia with the Patriots and along with Reeves-Maybin should play a key backup and special teams role this fall.
DEFENSIVE BACKS Starters - CB Darius Slay, CB Nevin Lawson, S Glover Quin, S Quandre Diggs. Backups - CB Teez Tabor, CB Jamal Agnew, CB DeShawn Shead, CB Mike Ford, CB Chris Jones, CB Amari Coleman, CB Antwuan Davis, S Tavon Wilson, S Miles Killebrew, S Rolan Milligan, S Charles Washington, S Stefan McClure.
The Lions return most of a unit that tied for fourth in the NFL in interceptions last season (without help from a great pass rush) and the hope is they will be even better this fall. Slay looks like a star, and is capable of checking any receiver one on one. Lawson has started 31 of the Lions' last 32 games, but he will be pushed on the right side this year by Tabor, a 2017 second-round pick who played sparingly as a rookie. Tabor doesn't have great speed, but his size and length make him a good fit for Patricia's scheme. The Lions added another big cornerback in Shead for depth purposes, and Agnew could compete for time in nickel and dime packages. Diggs is expected to make the switch full-time to safety after playing primarily as a slot cornerback his first three years. He will still move up to that role in some nickel packages, but is one of the hardest hitters on the team. Quin spent most of the spring away from the team tending to family matters, but he's a rock when he's on the field. It's a big training camp for Killebrew, who is on the roster bubble after a disappointing sophomore season last year.