New Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will have his work cut out for him in his first year in Motown.
He'll be tasked with trying to reverse the fortunes of a defense that allowed franchise-worst marks in both total yards (6,716) and points (519) for a single season in 2020.
In order for the defense to perform better, he's going to need returning players, like third-year linebacker Jahlani Tavai, to step up and produce better 2021 campaigns. But, he's also going to need the team's offseason acquisitions and rookie class to deliver consistent production.
One of the first-year pros who will be relied upon is defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike, who was drafted by the Lions in the second round (No. 41 overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Onwuzurike is just the type of player that Glenn wants as a member of his defensive unit: an "ass kicker."
"We want ass kickers,” Glenn said at Thursday's OTA practice. “So, we expect to play that way anyway, and it’s nothing new to what my vision is for a Detroit Lions defense. He (Onwuzurike) just solidified what my expectations of him is anyway.”
Onwuzurike's comments after being selected were refreshing for a Detroit fanbase that grew tired of the tight-lipped atmosphere that defined the Matt Patricia era in the Motor City.
“I like (bleeping) people up," Onwuzurike said. "I like to get off the line and just put my helmet or my hands on an offensive lineman and (expletive) up an offensive scheme pretty much. I like pushing them back two, three yards and just making them feel like (expletive).”
The Washington product fired up Lions supporters with the candor he expressed in his first press conference as a member of the organization. But, now, as Glenn referenced Friday, the 6-foot-3, 288-pounder has to back up those strong words with his play on the field.
"I told him that he made that statement, I better see it when he puts the pads on,” Glenn commented. “But, you saw it when he was in college, he was a disruptive force then. Even first-round pick Penei (Sewell), he talked about Levi and talked about how tough he was as a player to go against. So, with him saying that and what I’ve seen in college, I expect nothing less than that player.”
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Also, Glenn is looking to get more consistent production out of the Lions' safeties group in 2021, which, along with the rest of the defense, largely underwhelmed a season ago.
The former New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach specifically spent time Thursday talking about fourth-year safety Tracy Walker, who had a down season in 2020.
After leading Detroit with 103 total tackles, to go along with one interception and eight passes defensed in 13 games in 2019, Walker amassed just four passes defensed and 74 total tackles last year, ranking 78th among all safeties, per Pro Football Focus.
Glenn wants to get Walker back to his turnover-forcing ways, and hinted at the fact that his track record in New Orleans gives hope for Walker and fellow safety Will Harris to see an increase in productivity.
"If you go back and watch New Orleans safeties, man, each year, they will have four, five interceptions," Glenn expressed. "Malcolm Jenkins, who has maybe had one or two interceptions a year for the past seven years, he comes to New Orleans, and he has the best year of his career. So, any player in their right mind would want to learn as much as they can, as far as how we play our safeties in the back-end. So, I'm excited about the player (Walker). I'm excited about Will Harris. Both of those guys are eating up as much information as they can, because they want to be successful, just like we want to be successful."
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