INDIANAPOLIS – The 2022 season for Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was really a tale of two seasons.
There were the first eight weeks when the Lions were 1-6 and allowing an NFL-worst 32.1 points per game.
Then coming out of the bye week Glenn and his defensive coaching staff made some tweaks to the scheme, changed some personnel and allowed some guys a little more freedom within the scheme. The defense went from allowing 32.1 points per game to 20.2, which was 11th best in the league over the last 10 weeks.
The NFL is a 'what have you done for me lately' league, so the question for Glenn Thursday at the Combine was what can we expect from that side of the ball in 2023?
"We are a very young team on defense," Glenn said with a chuckle. "To see the transition when things weren't going well to when things started going well was outstanding. To see those young guys just buy into everything.
"And listen, there were some changes made, and you have to, especially when you start the season like we did. Those guys bought into every change we wanted to make, and they operated at a high level ... that was impressive, and you have to give those guys a lot of credit."
It's those young guys and the way they finished last season that gives Glenn the most confidence this will be a much-improved Lions' defense in 2023. General manager Brad Holmes has been candid this offseason in saying resources will be spent continuing to add talent and depth to that side of the ball. Holmes has the most cap space ($22 million with room to grow) he's had in his Lions tenure entering free agency. He also has five draft picks in the top 81.
But it's players like Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston taking that big leap in production most young players make from Year 1 to Year 2 that will be the biggest catalyst behind the improvements defensively in 2023.
"You really do (have to account for that)," Glenn said. "You really do. Especially those guys you just mentioned. They are going to get a lot smarter. A lot more understanding of scheme. Then when you start to add (other) players to that, man, that can make a really, really beautiful sight to see and coach."
Glenn also included third-year defensive lineman Alim McNeill in that mix. Glenn still considers the third-year players like McNeill, linebacker Derrick Barnes and cornerback Jerry Jacobs as ascending players. We'll see if defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike can be included in that group if and when he returns from a back injury that forced him to miss all of last season.
"I'm expecting a huge jump from him also," Glenn said of McNeill.
Glenn has always said a coach can't be afraid of playing young players, and he's been true to his word. Young players can also be molded a specific way to fit a scheme, and Glenn is hoping big strides made by Detroit's young core defenders will help the Lions' defense start playing even better football than how they finished this past season.
"How do we just continue to upgrade," Glenn said. "It's all about getting better and however you can do that. It doesn't always have to be a starter. For example, if we have four pass rushers upfront you want to make sure these guys that come behind them are just as good. I think that's where we're starting to build for the most part.
"Even having a guy behind Hutch that's just as good. Heck, we all want that. I think that's what we're looking at."
Glenn is going to continue to play a gap and half scheme upfront and continue to look for ways to utilize the best of his players' abilities, much like he did with Hutchinson and Joseph in particular last season. Holmes will add talent, head coach Dan Campbell will coach them up, and Glenn thinks his defense will be in a good spot entering 2023.