Detroit's defense evolved over the course of last season under the new schemes ushered in by first-year head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. There's a natural adjustment period that takes place with any new system, and we saw that last year for the Lions on defense.
By the end of the year, however, Detroit was playing some of the best defensive football in the league, finishing in the top 10 in total defense (10th), pass defense (10th) and run defense (8th).
This is a new year and a clean slate, but some of the growing pains this defense went through this time last year has been replaced with a level of comfort this spring in the second year in the scheme.
"I think it allows us to progress faster being able to kind of see around corners knowing what's coming up and what's expected for us to know in each phase of this offseason program," linebacker Jarrad Davis said Tuesday.
"I think it allows us as players to kind of take ownership as well, knowing that last year we were trying to install and scramble and put a lot of different things in that we really didn't know a lot about. We can take it into our own hands now."
Over the final eight games of last season, Detroit allowed just 18.7 points per game, which would have ranked third in the NFL over the course of the full season. The run defense gave up only 77.6 yards per game, which would have ranked first. Detroit returns eight starters from that unit and a number of reserves who could play key roles again this season.
Detroit also added one of the best pass rushers on the free-agent market in Trey Flowers and a tough and versatile nickel cornerback in Justin Coleman to add to the group. Both Flowers and Coleman are experienced in the scheme having played under Patricia in New England before.
"I'm excited just being in the second year of the defense, understanding it more, knowing what's expected of us as individuals and a unit overall," linebacker Devon Kennard said.
"It's just exciting to be able to build upon that. Just knowing the defense is going to help us a ton. Our starting point is going to be further ahead than it was a year ago."
It will still be a couple more weeks before the players and coaches can get on the field together and really start to delve into the finer points of this defensive scheme, but that's likely to be an exciting time for Patricia, Pasqualoni, the other defensive coaches and the players.
Detroit was playing good defensive football at the end of last season. They saw the potential for this scheme with this collection of players. The expectation would be to hit the ground running and start to get into the nitty gritty aspects of the scheme now that there's a greater comfort level.
"Honestly, I'm just really excited to just continue to dive deeper," Davis said. "Knowing what was on the surface and continue to go deeper into what everything entails.
"I'm just excited. I think that we can take another step as a defense, and honestly, I can take another step as a player, so I'm really excited to push myself and help push the guys around me."