The Detroit Lions' defense was vastly improved the second half of last season, going from the 32nd ranked unit in points allowed per game (32.1) the first eight weeks of the season to 11th at 20.2 from Weeks 9-18.
Still, Lions general manager Brad Holmes knew this offseason improving that side of the ball was priority No. 1 with the team returning most of a top five offense. Holmes re-signed some key players in the front seven, but the bulk of the defensive revamp took place in the secondary with the signings of veteran cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley and adding versatile defensive backs C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency and Brian Branch in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Moseley is still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in early October last year, so we haven't seen much of him in competitive periods against the offense in OTAs and minicamp, but Sutton, Gardner-Johnson and Branch have all been taking part and their presence has been felt early on.
It's been obvious that more hands are getting on footballs, more footballs are falling incomplete, and there's been less separation by Detroit's receivers during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 team drills.
"Yeah, it's much stickier," Lions quarterback Jared Goff said after Tuesday's first mandatory minicamp practice in Allen Park. "It's been much stickier and harder for us to gain separation at this point in OTAs and I think they've done a hell of a job making it harder on us and growing as a unit over there."
The defense clearly won a 7-on-7 red zone period on Tuesday, and all the competitive periods against the offense this spring have looked ... well ... more competitive.
"It's a lot more difficult offensively to find some of these windows than it was even this time last year," head coach Dan Campbell said of the defensive performance he's seen so far this spring. "That's a credit to AG (DC Aaron Glenn) and his staff and the additions that we do have.
"It's early, we're in spring, but there's a reason why we went and got Cam Sutton. There's a reason why we got Moseley. There's a reason why we got C.J. Because we believe they certainly upgrade us production-wise, but they are also football guys. They fit everything that we are about."
Detroit's pass defense last season allowed the third most yards in the league (4,446), the eighth most touchdowns (26) and the eighth highest passer rating in the league (94.2).
Playing good pass defense in the NFL includes finding a good marriage between rush and cover. The better the coverage in the back end, the more time the big guys upfront have to rush and vice versa.
View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions minicamp on Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Allen Park, Mich.
"It gets me fired up just seeing that," second-year edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson said of the additions in the secondary and the return of safety Tracy Walker, who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury.
"They believe in our pass rush. They believe we've got guys to get the passer and they went out and got some guys in the back end to make that quarterback hold it a little longer."
The first true test for this revamped secondary will come in training camp when the pads come on and the competition ramps up even more between the offense and defense. And with a Week 1 matchup in Kansas City against MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs' No. 1 passing offense, we'll find out rather quickly if the improvements we've seen in the pass defense this spring will translate to the the fall.