The Detroit Lions secondary needs to be a lot better this year. While the defense’s failure in 2019 was hardly just on them, their defense ranked dead last in passing yards allowed and interceptions, and was sixth worst in passer rating allowed. It’s hard not to look at the secondary as part of the problem.
But this year, the players on the back end are going to look a lot different. Gone are the likes of Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin and Tavon Wilson. In comes, Jeff Okudah, Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon.
Unfortunately for Detroit, this shortened offseason means that all these new faces have less time to develop one of the most necessary traits of a successful secondary: chemistry. While offensive linemen dominate the chemistry narrative, defensive backs need that same ability to trust each other to prevent giving up a big play.
Duron Harmon has been around long enough to know this. Entering his eighth season in the NFL—first with the Lions—Harmon appears to be taking on a leadership role to make sure that chemistry develops in time.
“We’ve got some new faces in the secondary, so it’s going to take some time,” Harmon told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday. “The good thing about this group that I’m learning just being around these guys for the past two weeks is that we’ve got a lot of grinders. We’ve got a lot of people who will put the work in to get to where we need to be a good secondary.”
Two key pieces of this new secondary are third overall pick Jeff Okudah and third-year safety Tracy Walker. Both are players that many believe have the potential to be Pro Bowlers at their respective position, and Harmon has come away with a good impression of both thus far, even though they’ve only been face-to-face for two weeks.
Here’s what he had to say about each.
“You see the talent, you see all the tools that can make him a great player. It’s just about continuing to get those reps, continue to try and get better each and every day. And you see that. You see how he works out. You see how he’s always trying to be competitive, trying to win. One of the first guys in the weight room. Has great energy each and every day. When you that, it’s very, very exciting to know that you’ll be back there with somebody like that.”
“The talent is there for sure. We’ve seen what he has done at Ohio State over his tenure there. He’s just another guy who’s willing to learn. He’s always asking me questions about Steph [Stephon Gilmore]. Asking me questions about how the room worked over in New England. A guy that’s just trying to learn.”
But with no OTAs or minicamp to go through, the Lions—like all 31 other teams—will be on a shortened timeline to get everyone on the same page. Harmon believes the Lions have to make use out of every moment in training camp to eliminate what he calls MEs—mental errors.
“This training camp, we know there’s going to be mistakes, but when we can go through a practice and everybody knows where they’re supposed to be, and everybody’s making their calls, and everybody’s on their guys, I think that’s when we’ll have some type of telling to where we’re at and how well we’re gelling,” Harmon said.
Harmon is a special position to make sure that gelling process happens as quickly as possible. Not only is he a veteran player that has seen every type of offense thrown at a secondary, but his entire career has been spent in New England, where they run the same defense as Detroit. There are differences here and there with the natural evolution of the game, but Harmon is working to keep up with those changes to make sure that trust develops between him and his fellow defensive backs.
“I’ve played in this defense, this is that defense,” Harmon said. “Obviously, when years go by you evolve because the game is always evolving. So you have to do different thing to keep up with what the offenses are doing. So, obviously, there are new things that I’m going to have to learn, and I’m working as hard as I can to make sure I learn those things to make sure that when I go out there people can count on me to know that I’m always going to know what I’m doing.”
The Lions are going to be counting on Harmon a lot this year. They spent a fifth-round pick to bring pry him from the Patriots, and while that may not seem like much, for a player on the last year of his contract, it’s a clear investment in a secondary that needs to see major improvements in 2020.