Presented by

Camp questions: Position with the most to prove on defense?

If there's one particular area of this Detroit Lions football team that could look significantly different under new head coach Matt Patricia, it's the defense.

It's expected to be a multiple scheme in Detroit, very similar to what Patricia ran in New England as defensive coordinator before coming to Detroit this offseason. There will be elements of a 4-3 and a 3-4 with multiple fronts, alignments and personnel groupings.

After answering questions on the top position battles entering training camp, who could be a surprise player in camp, and the position with the most to prove on offense, Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara continue to cover key camp questions by focusing in on the defense.

4. Which position has the most to prove on defense?

Tim Twentyman: Defensive end

View photos of the defensive ends competing for roster spots entering training camp.

There are a ton of question marks facing this group heading into camp. Can Ziggy Ansah put the injuries behind him and regain his Pro Bowl form while playing on a one-year franchise tag? Is Kerry Hyder Jr. the same player post-Achilles injury that he was in 2016? Will Anthony Zettel continue the steady rise we've seen from him in his first two seasons? Where does rookie Da'Shawn Hand fit into the mix?

There's a lot of versatility and athleticism among this group, and we could see many of these players line up in multiple spots along the line of scrimmage potentially from a four-, three- or two-point stance.

Detroit recorded 35 sacks last year, which ranked 20th in the NFL. Sacks are expected to come from a lot of different areas in 2018, but the edge defensive linemen still play an important role in this defense. If this group stays healthy, there's the potential for them to be quite disruptive.

Second choice: Safeties. I think it was too easy to go linebacker here, so I'm going safety. In New England, Patricia used a heavy safety look a lot as a core sub package group. It's a package featured in an attempt to keep an extra safety on the field to remain stout against the run, but at the same time have a better cover man in the game against athletic tight ends, versatile backs coming out the backfield and slot receivers.

It's a package that emphasizes versatility at the safety position, and the Lions have plenty of that in their group. Will the heavy safety look be a staple in Detroit too?

Mike O'Hara: Linebacker

The focus is squarely on the linebackers to make more plays, and it starts inside with Jarrad Davis.

Davis isn't the only linebacker to focus on to develop an improved unit in camp. Devon Kennard of the Giants and Christian Jones of the Bears were early free-agent signings.

Patricia wants strength up the middle on both sides of the ball. For the linebackers – and Davis in particular as the man in the middle -– there should be an opportunity to make more plays with a change in philosophy up front to more gap control.

Davis was drafted in the first round last year, and a lot was put on his shoulders. As a three-down player at middle linebacker – a key position in a 4-3 scheme for performance and leadership – Davis struggled early in the season.

He improved late in the year, especially in pass coverage, and looked considerably more comfortable in the offseason workouts and minicamp. Fellow 2017 rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a fourth-round pick, is another who should benefit from a year's experience.

As they step up, the result should be an upgrade for the entire linebacker corps.

Second choice: Punter Sam Martin. I consider the punter a part of the defense, because of his impact on field position. In Martin's case, that also includes kickoffs.

Martin missed the first six games last season because of a foot injury sustained in the offseason. When he returned, he did not perform to his elite 2016 level when he had a gross punting average of 48.5 yards and a net of 44.2. He dropped to a gross of 43.4 with a net of 37.6 in 2017.

Martin looked like he was back to his old level in the offseason workouts. He should have no problem carrying it into the season.

Looking ahead to Friday's question: Who is the most important player in camp in 2018?

Related Content

Advertising