In the past, Detroit Lions coaches have been extremely scant on details when it comes to how players fit in their scheme. Sometimes they said it was in order to get a competitive edge. Sometimes they said their players were so versatile, it would be unfair to box them into a specific role. Sometimes it was “too early to tell.”
Well, the Lions’ new defensive line coach Todd Wash wasn’t using any of those excuses. In a Zoom session with Detroit media on Thursday afternoon, he gave the media a pretty clear look at what some players’ roles will be, come September.
Wash started with defensive end Trey Flowers, who will be playing in a much different scheme than he had played in with the Patriots and under Matt Patricia. Normally in a down defensive end role, it sure sounds like Flowers will be playing a little more outside linebacker than he’s used to.
“We’re going to be a 3-4 out of base where he’s playing the outside linebacker spot,” Wash said bluntly. “And with them, obviously, it’s important that we’ll be able to get after the passer with those guys in our base package. Once we go to our sub and our dime package, then he’s going to be playing the defensive end spot.”
Considering many teams play more snaps in subpackages than their base formation, it may not be a huge change for Flowers, but it will be a change. Last year, he played outside linebacker in just nine snaps, per PFF. The year before, it was 27 snaps. In 2018, it was 61.
Regardless of the adaptation, Wash is confident he’ll fit right into their new scheme. An outside linebacker in this scheme needs to be able to do three things, per Wash: rush the passer, set the edge, and be “serviceable” in coverage. Despite not having much experience in the final category there, Wash believes Flowers will elevate his game based on his athletic skills.
“He’s got a great skillset for what we’re trying to do,” Wash said.
Conversation then moved to the rookie pairing the Lions drafted on Day 2: defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill. Wash said the Friday those two were drafted was “like Christmas” for him. Again, he broke down exactly what their expectations were for each player.
“Levi will play defensive end, and then on sub and dime packages, he’ll move inside.
“I really like Levi’s length to be able to set the edge and build a wall inside.”
On McNeill—who he calls “Mac”:
“He’s going to end up playing nose guard.”
“Mac is a young man who’s very athletic for his size at 327 (pounds).
Wash also had a few positive things to say about Da’Shawn Hand. The former third-round pick has shown flashes of a high ceiling at the NFL level, but injuries have held him back lately.
“When I came in, he was a young man we had a lot of conversations about. When I flipped on the tape—and when he’s healthy—I think he’s something that some teams are going to have to deal with. That’s my job to be able to get him to stay healthy, get him prepared, because physically and athletically, he has a chance to be a special player in this league.”
Put it all together with things we already know about Detroit’s defensive front, and it will probably look something like this:
Base 3-4 defense:
DL: Michael Brockers/Nick Williams — Alim McNeill/John Penisini — Levi Onwuzurike/Da’Shawn Hand
LBs: Romeo Okwara — Alex Anzalone — Jamie Collins Sr. — Trey Flowers
DL: Romeo Okwara — Michael Brockers — Levi Onwuzurike/Da’Shawn Hand — Trey Flowers
LB: Jamie Collins Sr.
Things could certainly change between now and September, but for now, the Lions’ defensive game plan is starting to emerge.