Detroit Lions defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs was a late addition to the team this offseason. Signed right before training camp got off the ground, his addition didn’t really move the needle much.
But after Detroit got pummeled in the run game in their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, the Lions decided they needed a new strategy for their defensive front. In a word, they wanted “girth.”
From then on, Buggs has been given an opportunity to be in the starting lineup as the team’s primary nose tackle—moving 2021 second-round pick Alim McNeill to more three-tech looks in the process where the team can tap into his rare blend of speed and power. That adjustment paid dividends in the preseason, as the Lions held the Colts and Steelers to a collective 87 rushing yards on 38 carries—or just 2.3 yards per carry.
And while the Lions run defense took a step back in Week 1 of the regular season, Detroit effectively bottled up the Commanders last week, holding starting running back Antonio Gibson to 28 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Defensive line coach Todd Wash said Buggs’ buy-in has played a huge part in the defensive turnaround.
“I think that’s a credit to those two big ol’ guys inside,” Wash said. “It’s nice seeing 320 and 300, but we’ll keep Mac at a slim 350. It’s just really good to see those guys eat up gaps. They line up in two and play two other ones. Both of them got game balls this last week. How they’re playing inside is going to be key, once again, for us this week.”
In fact, both played so well that they each received game balls this week from the team.
For Buggs, it’s a quick rise to fame, and he’s been enjoying every minute of it. On Tuesday, he tweeted out, “I love Detroit Definitely Want To Be Here Long Term.” Wednesday, I asked him to describe his journey and what has made this team so special to him.
“These coaches, and the fans and the guys in the locker room overall,” Buggs said. “It’s just a great place and definitely an atmosphere that I like to be around.”
But what has really endeared Buggs to the Lions organization is the team family environment. There are no selfish people in the locker room, and even though Buggs earned the game ball, he was quick to credit the rest of the team.
“That’s not about me, man,” Buggs said. “That’s about this team and everybody doing their job collectively. Like I said, no selfish person. There’s no I in team, and it’s a ‘we’ effort and a team effort and we all did our job to do what we’re supposed to do to come out with a win.”
For Wash, it’s that mentality—combined with his physical traits—that have made him such a valuable piece of the defense already.
“Buggs is in a really, really good place right now mentally, and obviously physically, he’s playing well,” Wash said. “That’s the biggest thing. When Buggs is on point, he’s as good as there is in the league, and we’re very fortunate that that’s where he’s at right now and we continue to see him there. So we’re really, really excited with how he’s playing. He does a lot of good things inside.”