clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Projecting Romeo Okwara’s role in the Detroit Lions’ new defense

Spoiler: He’s going to rush the passer from several spots

Detroit Lions v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are reportedly re-signing Romeo Okwara on a three-year deal, successfully bringing back their best pass rusher from last season.

In the previous scheme, Okwara spent roughly 75 percent of his snaps at defensive end, splitting time between both the left and right sides. He also spent time at JACK linebacker, rushing the passer another 20 percent of the time, then finished his remaining time on the interior defensive line at both the 5- and 3-techniques.

Moving Okwara around the defensive front was part of why it was so appealing to bring him back, but it was also a reason why he was able to find success: creating matchup problems for the offensive player.

With a new coaching staff in town, the Lions are changing their defensive scheme but they still plan on letting Okwara do what he does best:

“Romeo had 10 sacks, so he’s a pressure player,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of Okwara. “Every team in this league, every coach in this league, wants a pressure player. … We’re gonna have him rushing the quarterback. That’s what he does best.”

The details on the Lions base scheme have not been confirmed, but they have said they plan on drawing influence from the Los Angeles Rams (front-7) and New Orleans Saints (secondary) schemes—both defenses finished among the top in the NFL last season.

When the Lions operate out of a base 43, the current roster suggests Okwara and Trey Flowers will start at the defensive end spots. But when they shift to the Rams’ model, things change quite a bit.

At its core, the Rams run a 3-3-5, but it’s very different than former-coach Matt Patricia's 3-3-5. First, the Rams’ scheme focuses on penetrating gaps, rather than holding them. Second, the Rams’ scheme spread the field to create better pass rushing angles and in turn relies on more athletic players. Finally, the Rams will swap out their linebackers depending on if they were required to rush the passer or drop into coverage—this is most obvious at the WILL position.

So where does Okwara fit in?

He’ll probably do a lot of the same things we have seen him do in recent years, alternating between pass rushing with his hand in the dirt and standing up, but in the Lions base defense—when they want to get both Okawara and Flowers on the field at the same time—Okwara will likely spend time rushing from the JACK position. In the Rams’ scheme, they call the JACK role the SAM, but don't get too caught up on the names, at the end of the day it’s a spot that pass rushes on nearly every snap.

Here’s an example of one of the Rams base sets, with the Lions’ projected starters listed underneath the Rams’ player:

Here’s another base formation where the WILL (represented by Samson Ebukam) drops from a pass-rushing role on the line of scrimmage to an off-the-ball spot:

Beyond the flipped formation, you’ll notice the big change is the Flowers spot (represented here by Aaron Donald) shifts from a 3-technique to a 7-technique, while Okwara’s role (represented by Leonard Floyd) is still close to the wide-9 set—designed to create a pass-rushing angle.

While the early expectation is that Okwara will set up in pass-rushing roles on the outside, his positional versatility will also allow him to set up at the role I assigned to Flowers in the above pictures. When Okwara does shift inside, expect Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant to fill in at the outside pass-rushing role.

Getting Okwara back in Honolulu blue is a very significant move for general manager Brad Holmes. The Lions get a young (age 26) ascending pass rusher who can start at multiple spots, as well as be insurance at others.

NEW: Join Pride of Detroit Direct

Jeremy Reisman will drop into your inbox twice a week to provide exclusive, in-depth reporting and insights from Ford Field. Subscribe to go deeper into Lions fandom, and join us on our path to win the Super Bowl.