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Wednesday Breakfast with Tim and Mike: Do the Detroit Lions stick with defense after the first pick?

Posted Jan 16, 2013

If they get their defensive end early, they still need an impact safety and a corner. The Lions were severely lacking in the back end of their defense at safety, especially when Louis Delmas was out with an injury.

The coaching carousel is spinning in the NFL, and the national focus is on head coaches. The Lions have made moves at the assistant level.

What do you make of how head coach Jim Schwartz has reworked his staff?

Mike: There haven’t been any sexy, eye-grabbing moves. Schwartz hasn’t gone for big names, or former NFL head coaches, to fill out position jobs. What that means remains to be seen.

Jim Schwartz

The Lions have made noise in the past with big hires, and they all didn’t pan out. Marty Mornhinweg brought the west coast offense with him when he was hired as head coach in 2001, and that didn’t win anything. Neither did hiring Mike Martz as offensive coordinator in 2006, or adding Joe Barry – a highly regarded linebackers coach with Tampa Bay – as defensive coordinator in 2007.

A team’s most important position coach is offensive line, and Jeremiah Washburn has been promoted from an assistant there to coach the line. I’m betting there will be big changes up front. That’s the position that intrigues me the most – along with seeing who replaces Danny Crossman as special-teams coordinator, another vital spot on every team.

Tim: I'm most interested in seeing Jeremiah Washburn. We could potentially see as many as four new faces along the offense line next to left guard Rob Sims next year. It’ll be up to Washburn -- in his first season as a position coach -- to help with some of those transitions.

That’s a pretty big responsibility, but Washburn is a smart guy, he knows the system and he comes from good coaching stock (son of longtime veteran defensive assistant Jim Washburn).

The hire of Curtis Modkins as the team’s new running backs coach and run game coordinator could have some positives implications on the rushing offense. That's been the Achilles heel for that side of the ball for years. Modkins help mold C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in Buffalo, and if he can get just a fraction of the success Bills fans have enjoyed with their run game over the last few years, the Lions’ offense is in business.

The mock draft season is upon us and NFL.com analysts have come out with their first batch. All the mocks have the Lions taking either Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner at No. 5 or one of the premiere pass rushers. Do they have it right or are they missing a position?

Mike: They’ve nailed the right positions in terms of need, but I don’t see Milliner being drafted fifth overall. That seems too high.

The focus should be on two defensive ends – Bjoern Werner of Florida State and Damontre Moore of Texas A&M. Cornerback and safety are priority positions, but not as much as getting to the quarterback.

Cliff Avril led the Lions with 9.5 sacks last season. Only two other defensive ends on the team got sacks – Kyle Vanden Bosch with 3.5, and Lawrence Jackson with 2.5.

The Lions get good pressure up the middle. They need more than a nuisance from the outside.

There is more than one round to the draft, though. Do they stick with defense after the first pick?

Tim: I think they do. If they get their defensive end early, they still need an impact safety and a corner.

The Lions were severely lacking in the back end of their defense at safety, especially when Louis Delmas was out with an injury.

A good safety in the NFL is a defensive coordinator’s best friend. He’s the guy that makes up for a bad call by the coordinator. A playmaking safety with an eye for the ball is one of the best assets on that side of the ball -- along with an elite pass rusher.

The Lions need a playmaker to put alongside Delmas – if Delmas checks of medically and is re-signed this offseason – so he can be more of a rover and a playmaker.

Ask Denver how important it is to have a trusted playmaker in the back of their defense that can clean up plays down the field.

The only way I’d go offense with the second pick is if I could get a starter in the interior of the offensive line or one of the top speed backs.

Since we're on the subject of adding talent to a 4-12 roster, what unit disappointed the most in 2012 -- offense or defense -- and who deserves the most help?

Mike: They both had issues and disappointments, but not holding leads deep in the fourth quarter of three straight losses to the Packers, Texans and Colts overshadowed everything else.

The way offenses are set up, with rules to help them, no team is going to make every stop. But if you don’t make any stops, you won’t win any games.

In free-agency and the draft, everything should point to defense.

Agreed?

Tim: To a point. But the offense was supposed to be the strength of this 2012 team and it never emerged that way.

Injuries played a part, but in all of those games you described above, the offense had a chance to put the game away right before the defense stepped on the field. In fact, they could have put all three of those games away so it didn’t even come down to a defensive stop.

Stafford needs more weapons. He needs a speed back. He needs another outside receiver. He needs better protection in the interior of his offensive line.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the Lions addressing any of those needs.

Free agency starts March 12. Who’s the one free agent the Lions can ill afford to lose?

Mike: Cliff Avril, with Chris Houston and Louis Delmas tied for second. Money is an issue, of course, but making the choice in a vacuum -- without a whiff of dough -- the big need is a playmaker at defensive end. If they lost their top playmaker, that leaves two spots to upgrade.

Re-signing Avril narrows the focus and keeps a young, solid player up front.

Tim: I’m agree those are the top three but I have a little different order.

The Lions can’t afford to lose Chris Houston and leave themselves with three unproven second-year corners to go along with whomever else they add, especially if that player isn't a veteran free agent.

It’s the same situation you describe above with the defensive end position. Having two unproven cornerbacks, if they lose their top playmaker, leaves two spots to upgrade, or hope their unproven second-year players are ready to step in and contribute.

Houston, with Cliff Avril and Louis Delmas tied for second.

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