Through a month of the Detroit Lions offseason program, without a doubt, the secondary has been the star of the show. While the defense is typically ahead of the offense at this point, it’s not very common that the defensive backfield is this dominant in the offense-favored 7-on-7 sessions. On Tuesday, during red zone drills, the first and second-team offense found the end zone just a single time in around 8-10 attempts.
But don’t just take my word on it. Lions quarterback Jared Goff pointed out after the team’s first minicamp practice that Detroit’s new secondary has been making his life much harder—and that’s a good thing.
“It’s much stickier I feel like this year,” Goff said of Detroit’s secondary. “And whether that’s a product of new players or just having another year in the scheme, I can’t tell you. But it’s been much stickier and much harder for us to gain separation at this point in OTAs and I think they’ve done a hell of a job making it harder on us and growing as a unit over there too.”
The Lions secondary has been nearly completely overhauled. Gone are three of last year’s significant contributors in Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, and DeShon Elliott. They’ve been replaced with free agents Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. In addition to that, second-round rookie Brian Branch is looking to find an early role, Tracy Walker is returning after missing 14 games last year due to a torn Achilles, and Kerby Joseph is hoping to take a Year 2 jump after a promising rookie season.
“The expectations raises, but the knowledge raises, too,” Joseph said of the secondary additions. “Because those guys—everybody, the whole room—is learning. Not just me. The whole room is learning from everybody. It’s just an abundant amount of information that you can take and use on the field. That’s why our ones are good, our twos are good, and our threes are good, because we all communicate.”
That, perhaps, has been the most notable change. The Lions offense features a lot of pre-snap motion, which requires a lot of quick shifting of assignments on the defensive side of the ball. In order to do that, the secondary needs to relay information effectively and immediately—something that this unit has failed to do in the past. But through a few weeks of practice, no unit has been louder and closer than Detroit’s secondary.
“Obviously, out here, the communication factor is huge,” Sutton said last week. “Offenses do such a great job of challenging us with different moving parts, motions, things you see down in and down out. One communication changes from the next, even within the play, so just being ahead and alert on those little details will put us in the best situation to make plays.”
And while Goff has noticed the change in the secondary from the offensive point of view, Joseph is feeling it from inside the group, too.
“Last year’s OTAs were kind of frantic, but now it’s more calm,” Joseph said. “Now we’re practicing like pros. It’s good. We’re all fun together. We’re all working together. Communication is a lot better. So I just feel like, from last year to this year, I feel like the communication is just improved a lot more and the understanding of the communication.”
Perhaps the most exciting part is that we haven’t even seen what is expected to be the optimal lineup for the Lions secondary. Moseley—who will compete with Jerry Jacobs for a starting outside cornerback job—remains sidelined as he recovers from a torn ACL, and Walker, who will almost certainly start at safety, has yet to compete in team drills.
It’s too early to jump to any sweeping conclusions—especially as the teams remain without pads and early in playbook installment—but the first returns on Detroit’s revamped secondary are extremely promising.