ATLANTA – Veteran linebacker Devon Kennard was named one of Detroit's seven captains last season, and as a captain, Kennard feels it's his obligation to make sure the Lions continue to build on some of the success they had on the defensive side of the ball the second half of last season.
"In all honesty, what I've learned in this league, is last year has nothing to do with this year," Kennard said Friday on radio row at the Super Bowl while promoting the sleep drink SOM.
"If you go in like, 'We got good at the end of last year and we're going to do the exact same thing and we're going to be that defense.' That's the recipe for disaster. For me, it's a clean slate."
Kennard knows from personal experience.
"I've seen it happen," he said. "I was in New York (with Giants) in 2016 we were great. Had a great defense. In 2017 we fell off. I think even though we were saying some of those things like, 'We can't worry about last year.' I think it kind of set in. We had a lot of talent and thought we were going to be dominant again and it wasn't the same."
The Giants were a top 10 defense in 2016. They fell to 31st in total defense in 2017.
"Being one of the leaders and captains on the team, that's one thing I'm definitely going to kind of echo when we get back. 'Hey, it's clean slate. At the end of the day, we were a 6-10 defense last year. Let's bury all that and start new."
But Kennard is excited about the foundation they built on defense playing in Matt Patricia's new scheme. The starting point this offseason will be much farther along than it was last year, when they were in the implementation and learning stage. They start this year fine tuning.
Kennard expects the defense to hit the ground running. He was second on the team with seven sacks and recorded 46 tackles in 15 games in a primarily rushing outside linebacker role.
"They provided me with the opportunity to do things that I'm good at and put me in one spot and kind of rock out," he said. "It was a lot of fun. But I feel like there's a lot of growth I can make. It was my first time playing in that kind of role fully. I think I played well, but there's a lot of things I can keep working on and that's what I'm focused on in the offseason."
The Lions return a number of core players on defense including Kennard, Jarrad Davis, Damon Harrison, Da'Shawn Hand, Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs. They're also expected to add to that side of the ball, with the hopes of bringing in a few more playmakers. The Lions will have some capital to spend in free agency, and this is a defense dominated draft class, with the Lions selecting No. 8 overall.
Detroit finished last season 10th in total defense, 16th in scoring, eighth against the pass and 10th against the run. They only had 14 takeaways, however, the second fewest in the league. There are some nice things to build on, but some areas that need improving as well.
"I want to get more and more comfortable with the defense," Kennard said. "Once you get all the way into the scheme and you understand all the nuances of what you can do, that's where it gets fun.
"Toward the end of the year we started to get to that point and I'm looking forward to getting with the guys again and like, 'Okay, we got the core of this down, let's start having fun with it and working on specific things we know we can use within this scheme to help take us to the next level."
View photos of the Detroit Lions' 2018 linebackers.