The heavy three-safety nickel look has emerged as an effective package helping defenses better match up with bigger and more talented tight ends and slot receivers across the league. It has also helped defenses better stand up to the run out of the shotgun, and to be more effective blitzers off the edge from the secondary.
The Lions have been one of a number of teams to utilize the package effectively over the last few years.
“You hope it gives you a lot of versatility,” Lions defensive backs coach Brian Stewart said Tuesday.
Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Andrew Adams, Tavon Wilson and others form a pretty deep safety group in Detroit.
It’s up to head coach Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and Stewart to see how all the pieces fit together. Detroit likes to be in and out of different personnel groupings on defense, and being deep at safety will help continue to allow them to do that.
“It’s exciting to get all these different pieces,” Stewart said. “See these guys play different things. I think training camp is going to be real exciting because now we get to see those things with pads on.”
That’s when Stewart says the physicality at the position will show up, which he hopes is a big part of their defense.
Diggs returns as one of only two defensive backs in the NFL to total at least 130 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six interceptions and a pick-six the past two seasons. He can play all over the secondary, including in the box and as a deep safety in single high coverage.
Walker, the team’s third-round pick last year, is long and lean, and attacks the ball with his length. He showed promise as a rookie.
Harris, the team’s third-round pick this year, has terrific short-area quickness and speed, and attacks the ball running through the defender.
Wilson’s been a versatile defender over his seven seasons in the league, and Adams is coming off a four-interception season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018.
View photos from Day 3 of 2019 Detroit Lions OTAs on Thursday, May 23, 2019 in Allen Park, Mich.
The Lions look to have good depth at safety heading into the season, which should allow them to continue to use a heavy nickel package utilizing a third safety on the field as a hybrid linebacker/cornerback.
“That’s exciting, right?” Stewart said of that depth. “You play against teams that have two tight ends, or multiple tight-end teams, you’re able to play three safety sets or do some of those things.
“So, it just gives you so much versatility. I can do this. We can do that. That’s where we want to be. That’s a good thing.”
The ideal fit for the package is a hard-hitting defender with corner-like cover skills. Stewart has a group of safeties he’s excited to work with in that regard. He also mentioned how Detroit got longer this offseason at the cornerback spot with some of their free-agent acquisitions and rookie signings. Some of those players could even slide into a hybrid sub-package role.
Being versatile and multiple is a staple of Detroit's defense under Patricia. There’s a premium value on having the personnel to run multiple packages and looks. The big nickel package could be an interesting one to watch as the offseason progresses to see how it develops and who it might feature with the depth and skill set the Lions appear to have a safety.