Last season, the Detroit Lions went through a huge transition on defense. The anchor of the unit, Ndamukong Suh, was lost to free agency, along with a handful of defensive line compatriots. Even though the Lions would eventually trade for Haloti Ngata, the defense essentially had to go through a major transformation (especially when DeAndre Levy’s injury complicated things), and it resulted in half of a season lost while the defense tried to gain its footing.
In 2016, the Lions defense may have to undergo another adjustment period. According to Pro Football Focus, Detroit’s defense has lost the third-most defensive contributions from 2015. In other words, they’ll have to replace the the third-most amount of defensive snaps, which were lost to free agency, retirement or injury.
This should not come as much of a surprise. The Lions are purposely going through an overhaul of the defense. Whenever a new general manager comes in, one can expect a high amount of roster turnover right away. Additionally, Detroit wisely moved on from aging players who had become too expensive or just too easily replaceable. Though they were heavy contributors in 2015, the Lions were right to move forward from Stephen Tulloch, James Ihedigbo and even Jason Jones.
But that won’t make the adjustment any easier. Getting rid of ineffective players is just one step; you have to replace them with better players. The jury is still out on whether the Lions accomplished that. Defensive end remains a very shallow position on the depth chart after Jones’ departure. Linebacker may be even thinner, especially with Levy still on the mend. And although the Lions currently have Rafael Bush in Ihedigbo’s former spot, Detroit must not have a ton of confidence in Bush considering they added Miles Killebrew in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, who himself is going through a huge transition.
So while turnover can be a good thing for this Lions team, proceed with caution if you’re expecting this defense to come out firing this year. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin proved he needs time for adjustment to a new roster, and he’s going to be dealing with a load of fresh faces again this season.
According to the same PFF article, the Lions are undergoing the ninth-most turnover on offense (including that Calvin Johnson guy). Jim Bob Cooter will have his work cut out for him as well.