It's no secret the biggest overhaul Brad Holmes had to undertake after becoming Detroit Lions general manager this offseason was to revamp a historically bad defense. The Lions are coming off a 2020 season that saw them allow the most points and yards in franchise history and rank among the league's worst in most of the major statistical categories on defense.
Holmes re-signed Detroit's most impactful defender last year, edge rusher and sack leader Romeo Okwara, he traded for veteran defensive lineman Michael Brockers, signed a few experienced veterans at linebacker, cornerback and safety, and used four of his seven picks in this year's draft on defenders Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Derrick Barnes and Ifeatu Melifonwu.
Holmes is also hoping last year's first-round pick, cornerback Jeff Okudah, takes a big step forward in year two, and some younger veterans like defensive back Tracy Walker and linebacker Jahlani Tavai can have bounce-back years.
Holmes is also banking on one other factor outside of the roster. He's expecting new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to have a huge impact and help get the most out of his players on that side of the ball.
"A ton," Holmes told detroitlions.com on the impact Glenn can have on improving Detroit's defense. "There's a reason why he was on the circuit and consideration of being a head coach and interviewing."
In 2015 before Glenn was hired as the defensive backs coach in New Orleans, the Saints allowed a passer rating against of 116.2, one of the worst marks in NFL history. That figure was under 90.0 in three of the past four seasons, including 2020, when opponents were held to an 83.3 passer rating (fourth best in the NFL), and the Saints tied for the league lead with 18 interceptions.
Glenn had a helping hand in the growth of Pro Bowl safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the youngest Saint (21 years old) ever selected to the Pro Bowl and the franchise's first AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Holmes is hopeful Glenn can have the same impact with some of Detroit's young defenders.
"The first time we had an opportunity to talk (to Glenn), I was very, very impressed," Holmes said. "I had just left the Rams when Brandon Staley was there and had the No. 1 defense and he's been under Vic Fangio. So then when me and Aaron Glenn are speaking, a lot of the similar themes started coming out and I said, 'Wait, hold on, this sounds a lot like ... ' and he was a Vic Fangio guy.
"Just our secondary in general, when you look at the upside of Okudah and Amani (Oruwariye) and (Mike) Ford, and even getting to a young guy like Iffy (Melifonwu), we have guys that have a lot of upside.
"But when you have Aaron Glenn, and then you pair that up with (defensive backs coach) Aubrey Pleasant, that's different because Aaron Glenn and what he's done speaks for itself. Then I know firsthand, I've worked with Aubrey Pleasant, and I can't remember a defensive back he had his hands on that he didn't get the most out of."
Glenn is implementing a new defensive scheme that's about simplifying things for his players and teaching them to understand where their help is, and how scheme and play calling can contribute to them do their job more efficiently. He's going to be aggressive upfront, and try to better marry the relationship between rush and cover.
"Aaron Glenn is huge for what we're going to be doing moving forward," Holmes said.
Detroit's defense has been its biggest issue the last few seasons. If Glenn can have some of same impact he did in New Orleans, and Detroit's defense can show improvement in 2021, Detroit has a chance to be a better football team overall.