Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp spoke to the media Saturday in preparation for Thursday's regular-season opener in Kansas City. Here are my 10 biggest takeaways from those media sessions:
1. You might not ever see a bigger smile come from Johnson than when he was asked about getting all five of his top offensive linemen on the field for the first time in the last two seasons.
"I love it," Johnson said. "It's my blankie. It's (QB) Jared's (Goff) blankie. Those guys are special. They are one of the top units in the league."
Johnson didn't say who would start at right guard -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Graham Glasgow – but said internally they view it like they have six starters upfront.
2. Glenn said the plan is to play all four of the team's top linebackers – Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jack Campbell and Malcolm Rodriguez on Thursday. Glenn described each player's strength as follows:
- Anzalone: Field general and cover specialist
- Barnes: Explosive, fast and violent
- Campbell: Big, strong, physical and fits what Detroit wants to be as a defense
- Rodriguez: Bulldog
3. Fipp is the most excited he's been about this Lions roster and subsequently the talent he has on special teams in the three years he's been the special teams coordinator in Detroit. He said his players on teams will have their work cut out for them Thursday because of Kansas City's explosive ball carriers and returners.
4. Johnson said the game plan won't change whether Kansas City All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones plays or not. Jones is currently in a contract dispute with the Chiefs and hasn't reported to the team. Jones is a dynamic player (15 sacks last season), and Johnson said they'll certainly know where he is every time he's in the game if he reports and plays Thursday.
5. What stands out about All-Pro Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce when Glenn throws on the tape? It's Kelce's IQ. Glenn said Kelce's football IQ is off the charts whether it's against man or zone. He just knows how to find the soft spots and get himself open, and the chemistry with quarterback Patrick Mahomes just makes it that much harder to defend against.
6. For competitive reasons Fipp didn't want to reveal who the team's kickoff returner will be Thursday. He did confirm, however, that Kalif Raymond will be the team's punt returner, to no one's surprise.
7. Detroit won't have wide receiver Jameson Williams for the first six games of the season. DJ Chark left to sign with Carolina in the offseason. Last season those were Detroit's two biggest vertical threats in the passing game. Johnson said he has a lot of confidence in the offense's ability to stretch the field vertically without those two, and said that doesn't always have to come from the receiver position. It's something to keep an eye on.
8. Everything starts upfront for Glenn and the Lions' defense, and he loves the numbers and versatility he has upfront along the defensive line and the different packages he can throw at Kansas City on Thursday. He mentioned third-year defensive lineman Alim McNeill in particular as a player he's especially excited about after McNeill transformed his body and added more explosiveness to his game this offseason.
9. Fipp said he's excited about both of the kickers on the roster – Riley Patterson on the 53 and Michael Badgley on the practice squad. He likes that both players have kicked for Detroit and had success here. Fipp doesn't seem worried about the kicker job heading into the season.
10. Asked about the Chiefs' defense overall, Johnson said the thing that stood out to him on tape was the play of their linebackers. He said linebacker Nick Bolton is one of the more underrated defenders in the NFL. Also jumping out to him was Kansas City's ability to limit explosive plays.