Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell spoke to the media Monday as the Lions began their preparations for Sunday’s regular season opener in Arizona.
Here are 10 takeaways from those media sessions:
1. What can we expect from Arizona’s new offense under Kliff Kingsbury? Pasqualoni described it as a “spread it out deal” that’s wide open with three, four and sometimes five receivers on the field. It challenges a defense both horizontally and vertically, with the speed at receiver and the strong arm of quarterback Kyler Murray. The most important thing Pasqualoni said about playing defense this week is being able to make good in-game adjustments.
2. The Lions claimed running back J.D. McKissic off waivers over the weekend. McKissic played for Bevell one year in Seattle. So, what are the Lions getting in the fourth-year running back? Bevell described him as a versatile player who can play different roles and is explosive with the ball in his hands. Bevell plans to put him into the mix at running back and see how it shakes out.
3. Because this is a new offense in Arizona with no pro film of any substance to study, Pasqualoni has gone back through 40 years of coaching notes to try and find any bit of information that can help him prepare for this week. Pasqualoni has a binder of notes on every opponent he’s ever played in boxes and boxes piled up in the garage of his Connecticut home. Let’s just say Pasqualoni and the defensive coaches have put in a lot of homework trying to prepare for the unknowns of this week.
4. One area of Arizona’s defense that really stands out to Bevell on film is the Cardinals’ edge rushing combo of Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs. The two combined for 20.0 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last season (Jones playing in Arizona and Suggs in Baltimore). The key matchups this week will be Lions tackles Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner vs. those veteran edge rushers.
5. The Lions can’t put all their resources into defending Arizona’s pass game this week because they also employ David Johnson, who is one of the best running backs in the game. Johnson’s ability to take over a game puts more stress on the preparations for this week for Detroit’s defense.
6. Detroit has a versatile tight end room that Bevell described as a “huge upgrade” over what Detroit had at the position last season. The great thing about T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James and Logan Thomas, according to Bevell, is they can all play the Y or U positions and are extremely versatile in that regard.
7. Because of injuries and other factors, Detroit’s expected 11 starters on defense this season have played very little with one another this offseason and training camp. Detroit’s expected to be strong defensively, but even Pasqualoni said it’s a work in progress. They still have a long ways to go on that side of the ball because they haven’t played much together yet.
8. The easiest way to get running back Kerryon Johnson the football is to hand it off to him, but Bevell wants to get Johnson involved in the passing game. Bevell thinks his ability as a pass catcher could be huge for the Lions' offense.
9. It didn’t sound like Pasqualoni wanted to dump a whole lot on rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai’s plate early on. Jarrad Davis’ status for Sunday is unknown, and if the veteran can’t go, Tavai is expected to play a bigger role, but Pasqualoni was very cautious about putting too much on the rookie early on.
“He’s a rookie, so we’re not going to put any undue pressure on a rookie ... ever,” Pasqualoni said. “We’ll try to coach him and bring him along. I think with any young guy you don’t want to throw him to the wolves and in this league ... if you put somebody in before they’re ready or too soon or whatever, you’re setting him up for failure.”
10. Second-year fullback Nick Bawden has had a good camp. He earned his roster spot after missing his entire rookie season to a knee injury. He brings a physical presence to the offense Bevell was looking for. Bevell referred to Bawden as a bit of an old school player with a nastiness and willingness to bloody his nose to get the job done. It’s exactly what this offense needs.