After taking a look at the Detroit Lions offense earlier today, it is now time to move to the other side of the ball and examine the defense. As a whole, the defense underwent quite a few changes during the offseason with new faces being added at linebacker, cornerback and safety. The defensive line remains largely the same, but the back seven is a bit different.
The only change at this position from 2010 to 2011 is that Turk McBride no longer is on the team after signing with the New Orleans Saints. Part of the reason why the Lions felt they could let McBride go is because Young has really stepped up his game. He has continued to improve and is expected to be a solid rotational player at defensive end along with Jackson, who would be a starter on a number of other teams. He isn't a starter for the Lions because they have Vanden Bosch and Avril, but Jackson can be counted on if either goes down with an injury.
In addition to losing McBride, the other change to the defensive line is the addition of Fairley, who was selected 13th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Because of his foot injury, Fairley hasn't gotten a chance to show much on the field for the Lions, and he isn't expected to play against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Once he recovers from the injury, he will join a rotation at defensive tackle that already has some talented players in Hill and Fluellen. Defensive tackle is loaded from top to bottom, and especially at the top with the starting defensive tackles. Suh and Williams make for quite the combination for opposing offensive linemen to go up against.
The Lions overhauled the linebacker position this offseason by adding Tulloch and Durant when NFL free agency opened. Tulloch is expected to start at middle linebacker. This shifts Levy to the outside, where Durant is expected to start as well. Carpenter is the main backup for the outside linebackers, and he had an outstanding preseason. Palmer is the main backup at middle linebacker, although Levy could switch back inside if Tulloch were to get injured. Ekejiuba is mainly a special teams player, and Hogue, a 2011 draft pick, is more of a developmental player. Like Young last year on the defensive line, I expect Hogue to spend 2011 developing and be more ready to contribute next year.
Houston is back as a starter for the Lions after re-signing this offseason. The other starter at cornerback is Wright, who was added as a free agent. Berry is one of the main backups, as is McDonald, who should see time as the nickel back. Smith will be a contributor as well, but probably not for another week or two since Monday was the first day he practiced since breaking his foot earlier in the summer.
Delmas and Spievey are expected to be the starters. Delmas, now entering his third year, is someone who could have a breakout season in 2011. Spievey could also have a breakout season in what is his first year as a full-time safety. He has developed quite well and has shown a lot of potential. Coleman was brought in as a free agent before the lockout to compete with Spievey for a starting spot, and Spievey has clearly won the competition. This means Coleman will be the main backup at safety since Wendling is mainly a special teams player.