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Detroit Lions mailbag, Part 2: Who will still be on the roster in 2023?

Part 2 of this week’s mailbag includes projecting which players are still on the roster in 2023, a closer look at the split-safety scheme, and some coaches talk.

Indianapolis Colts v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

We didn’t have enough room to fit all the quality Detroit Lions questions into Saturday’s POD Mailbag Part 1, so myself (Erik Schlitt) and Jeremy Reisman are back to wrap things up.

Enjoy!

Erik: First, let’s set the table on split safety, without getting too deep in the weeds on NFL defensive schemes and coverages.

The basic concept in this scheme is that both safeties line up on the same line, the same distance from the line-of-scrimmage, each covering half the field in base sets. Depending on what the defensive play call is, the safeties assignments will vary. In 2-man, they will stay in their areas in man coverage. In Cover-2, they stay in their areas and are in zone coverage. In Cover-1, one of the safeties will drop to single-high and the other will be in man coverage. In Cover-3, one will drop to single-high, while the other steps up to the linebacker level and could be in either man or zone coverage. In Quarters, both drop into zone, similar spots as Cover-2, but with the corners also dropping, the area the safeties need to cover is smaller.

Now, with regards to the Lions' personnel in this scheme, in the past, Tracy Walker has had more success in single-high than Will Harris, who does indeed feel like a better box safety. But, in order for this scheme to work properly, the safeties need to be interchangeable in their roles because they will often flip assignments to adjust to the offense. So that means, both safeties need to be comfortable playing all over the field, and there is no scaling back of responsibilities for either guy.

I totally get fans’ concerns will Harris, as he struggled in the previous scheme, but this coaching staff and front office rave about his development.

Coach Dan Campbell:

“I feel really, really good about (our safeties). Will Harris, I’ll say the acceleration of his development, how quickly it’s gotten to in terms of knowing him when he came out of B.C. (Boston College) and then seeing him early on. You’ve got to be really, really excited about that.”

GM Brad Holmes:

“Will Harris and Tracy (Walker), they’ve had pretty good camps, now. Will may have grown – Will and Amani (Oruwariye) may have had two of the best camps of anybody on our roster, as a matter of fact.”

Jeremy: I don’t think I have anything left to say other than I’m honestly worried about both Walker and Harris. We’ve seen more flashes from Walker, but by no means should he just be given the benefit of the doubt right now. Walker displayed the confidence in training camp and Harris looked improved, but both got worked in the preseason game against the Steelers—our one data point against a non-Lions team.

Jeremy: Without a doubt, I’m most excited about defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant. He was an absolute star during training camp, bringing more juice to practice than any player or other coach (sorry, Duce Staley). Not only that, but we’ve already seen a ton of growth in Detroit’s secondary. AJ Parker went from a long shot who looked out of place in camp to starter at nickel. Ifeatu Melifonwu went from likely spending his rookie season unofficially redshirted to being the team’s primary backup. Jeff Okudah looks like a different person, and the team actually seems excited about Will Harris.

I suspect your answer will be the same, Erik, so do we just want to jump to the coach we’re still not sold on?

Erik: You’re right, it is the same, so yeah, the coach I’m most concerned about is QB coach Mark Brunell. Yes, he has an insane amount of NFL experience (he played 19 seasons) but he was a high school football coach the seven years prior to joining the Lions and lacks experience coaching quarterbacks at this level as a profession. Now he has kept busy helping draft-eligible quarterbacks prepare for the NFL, and during those 19 years he was most likely a defacto QB coach in a lot of ways, but again with questions at the quarterback position, his lack of experience at this level causes me some concern.

Jeremy: I think I may throw Anthony Lynn’s name on the list of concerns. To little fault of his own, he may come out looking bad in 2021 just because of the personnel he has. To be clear, my concern level is still pretty low. Though he didn’t succeed as a head coach with the Chargers, he did help orchestrate some pretty solid offenses. I guess I just view this offense’s current direction as a little too focused on small ball and the running attack. I want someone who will attack on offense, not try to slow the game down.

Looking forward: name the current Lions that you are 95% sure will be on the 53 man roster in 2023. — critical perspective

Erik: So, since I’m the optimist, I’ll list out my guys, then you can tell me where I’m wrong.

QB: None
RB: D’Andre Swift
WR: Amon-Ra St. Brown
TE: T.J. Hockenson
OL: Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson
IDL: Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill
EDGE: Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara
LB: Derrick Barnes
CB: Jeff Okudah, Ifeatu Melifonwu
S: None
P: Jack Fox

A quick note before I let you bring the noise. Every player I picked is signed through the 2023 season, save Fox, but he will still be a restricted free agent in 2023, so I’m willing to speculate the Pro Bowler will still be around.

Ok, have at it.

Jeremy: The only ones I’m not too sure of on your list is Julian Okwara. He’s got a lot of growing to do before then. But I would also add one person to your list: Scott Daly because long snapper works like The Santa Clause. If you kill the old Santa, you’re the new one. Death. Taxes. Daly.

Erik: Wait, I thought that was an accident. Did Scott Calvin kill Santa?

Jeremy: Technically it was an “accident,” but funny story. The original script of The Santa Clause had Tim Allen’s character (Scott Calvin) shooting Santa dead. I’m serious.

Erik: This mailbag took a dark turn.