Three goals and top battle

© Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Sports Xchange

Three goals:

--Master the defense. For years, the Lions lined up in a four-man front and told their defensive line to get up the field and after the quarterback. Things won't quite be as simple this year, as Patricia and coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will change the shape of their defense on a weekly basis. With so many moving parts on that side of the ball - expect a lot of dime defense, too - the Lions have assembled a collection of smart and versatile players that they demand will be exact in everything they do. A lot of teaching went into the spring, and now the Lions have six weeks to perfect their new scheme before games begin.

--Solidify the run game. For the Lions to be at their best offensively this year, they will need to get much more out of a running game that ranked last in the NFL in rushing in 2017. They have taken steps to improve the unit, signing running back LeGarrette Blount and drafting offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and running back Kerryon Johnson, but until the pads come on they won't have a true sense of how much better they will be. Ragnow should start at left guard, while Johnson and Blount and expected to be the primary ball-carriers.

--Keep Ziggy Ansah healthy. Ansah gave everyone a reminder of how good he can be during a two-game stretch to close last season when he had six sacks. For much of the 14 weeks before that, Ansah was invisible as a pass rusher (three of six other sacks came in an early September game against the New York Giants) as he missed game and practice time with knee and back injuries. The Lions kept Ansah's workload to a minimum this spring while he recovered from knee surgery, and there's no reason to rush him back into action now. The Lions don't have another pass rusher nearly as good as Ansah, so they need him healthy and contributing all fall.

Top Battle

--Cornerback. The Lions don't have many starting jobs up for grabs on either side of the ball, but one position where there is some uncertainty heading into training camp is the cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay.

Nevin Lawson has held down the job for most of the last two years, but the Lions gave second-year corner Teez Tabor plenty of work this spring in an effort to get him ready for the season. Tabor is raw, having played sparingly as a rookie, but he's got the size and physicality to play in Matt Patricia's defense. Lawson isn't a big playmaker, but he's a solid enough player to hold the starting job down until Tabor is ready.