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10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What can we expect from Lions' defense?

During the regular season Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: No. A pretty good rule of thumb is to always take the preseason with a grain of salt. There's little to no scheming in the preseason, and for a defense that plans to be very multiple based on scheme, what we saw in the preseason was extra vanilla. 

Do you still want players to win individual battles and make plays? Sure. Is it concerning that didn't happen enough on defense in the preseason? Maybe a little.

I expect there to be some growing pains on defense early on after installing all new schemes and techniques, but that side of the ball has playmakers, and when those playmakers are on the field for the bulk of the game, schemed specifically for an opponent, it should look better than what we saw in the preseason.

20man: This is a very experienced Lions secondary that has played together for three years now. All five starters – Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson – have gotten second contracts with the club.

The Jets are starting a rookie quarterback in Sam Darnold Monday night. That's where Detroit has to take advantage of their experience. Quin has been able to confuse savvy veterans like Drew Brees with coverage in the past, which led to big plays for the Lions' defense. What will he have in store for a rookie starter?

20man: Short answer is everywhere. First and foremost it will be Ziggy Ansah. He's healthy and seems energized by this new defense and his role within it. Outside linebacker Devon Kennard will also play a role.

Looking back at Matt Patricia's New England defense last year, it ranked seventh in the NFL with 42 sacks. 15 different players from all three levels of the defense recorded a sack. Pressure will come from places Lions fans aren't used to. This isn't the 4-3 get up the field in a cloud of dust with your front four scheme fans are used to seeing here in Detroit. Pressure is expected to come from many layers and levels throughout the course of a game.

20man: I've got two names for you. Diggs and Kennard.

Diggs is going to play a number of different roles in this defense, and we saw at the end of last year how productive he can be when he plays safety. He's just a good football player, and the more he sees, the more he makes plays.

Kennard has some versatility to his game, which is why the Lions pursued him in free agency, but most of the times we've seen him throughout training camp and the preseason has been on the ball in a pass-rushing role. He's a quick-twitch rusher with good speed and the ability to bend to get around the edge. He's going to see a lot of one-on-one matchups, and could have some early success.

20man: Patricia is the head coach. He'll have certain principles he adheres to and ways in which he wants certain things done. That being said, I get the sense he has a lot of trust in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to call a game and run that side of the football efficiently.

Think of that relationship this way: Patricia has an extensive defensive background, and that provides an interesting perspective for Cooter. How would he attack Detroit's offense? That's input I'd like to have as an offensive coordinator. How might a defense try to adjust to certain concepts? Patricia has said in the past he enjoys his conversations with quarterback Matthew Stafford, and hopes he brings a different perspective to those talks.

20man: I remember thinking it wasn't the best sign for Zettel that he was playing late in the fourth preseason game.

I think it really came down to scheme fit. This is a defense that plans to be multiple, and that puts a greater value on players who can do multiple things. Take Ansah for instance. He can rush from a four, three or two-point stance, and is athletic enough to drop and play in space, if asked to do so. He is also very good at setting the edge and playing the run. He's versatile.

Zettel was an all-hustle, hand-in-the-dirt edge rusher for Detroit. He was good in that role, but that's what he is.

He was claimed by Cleveland. I would expect him to produce for the Browns. I just don't think he was the best scheme fit with the Lions.

20man: It's always been my belief that this is a player's league, and winning on Sunday ultimately comes down to players making plays between the white lines on Sunday.

Taking a player approach to the question, I think there's a lot of pressure on Detroit's offensive line to make good on the heavy investment that's been placed on them over the past few years. Starting Monday night will be two first-round picks (Taylor Decker & Frank Ragnow), a third-round pick (Graham Glasgow) and two players in TJ Lang and Rick Wagner, who were priority free-agent signings. That's a heavy investment.

Staying healthy is obviously task No. 1, but this is a unit that has to be better in both pass protection and run blocking for the Lions to get where they want to go offensively, which is being among the best units in the league.

20man: Mack is a terrific player, and he makes an already good Bears' defense even better. That being said, I think Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky needs a little more experience before I'd give Chicago the edge over the three other teams with much more seasoned signal callers.

Minnesota is stacked. Great defense. Experienced and skilled quarterback. Ability to run the ball. The offensive line needs to get healthy, but they have the best roster in the division, and are the team to beat.

Green Bay and Detroit are right behind them. Getting Aaron Rodgers back is a difference maker for the Packers, but I see those rosters on equal footing and battling it out right behind Minnesota.

Chicago will be much improved, and could surprise some people, but they're probably a year away from really making noise.

Overall, the NFC North should be one of the most competitive divisions in football.

20man: On paper, it's a unit that should be good, as long as they stay healthy.

I like the diversity Detroit has at the running back position. They can come at teams a lot of different ways. It's just a matter of giving those backs an opportunity to make plays by opening up holes.

I like Ragnow in that regard. That's an upgrade along the interior. A healthy Decker should be better on the left edge. Lang is a Pro Bowler. It seems like the right pieces are in place, they just have to stay healthy and perform.

20man: It wasn't long ago Abdullah led the NFL in kick return yards (1,077) as a rookie. He's very capable in that regard. He averaged 29.1 yards per return back in 2015.

While Agnew was very good as a punt returner last year (15.4 average and two TDs), he averaged just 17.8 yards per kickoff return. Blocking obviously plays more of a factor in kick return than it does punt return, but the numbers are what they are. Returning kicks is also a tough job physically, so there's a durability issue to consider.

As for Abdullah's role on offense, if he ends up being fourth in the rotation behind LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson and Theo Riddick, that's not a bad fourth option to have. He has experience, and is a proven playmaker who can make some things happen in the passing game. I'd bet other teams would love to have a guy that experienced in that role.

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