Detroit Lions fans eagerly await the hire of a new head coach to officially kick off the offseason in Detroit, but Lions players are also eager to see what the new coaching staff will look like and how they might fit into the mix moving forward. Chief among them are Detroit's crop of free agents.
Players like defensive end Ziggy Ansah, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Tahir Whitehead have played major roles in Detroit's defense the last few seasons.
How will they fit moving forward?
Lions general manager Bob Quinn was very clear after the season that he intends on adding pieces to his defense this offseason in the hopes of bolstering a unit that ranked 27th overall and 21st in points allowed.
Whitehead will be a particularly interesting case this offseason. He made a rather easy transition from middle linebacker to the weak side this season, and led the Lions with 110 tackles (78 solo). It was his second straight season with at least 100-plus tackles. He was also second in the NFL with four fumble recoveries, and finished the year as the ninth-best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, as graded by Pro Football Focus. He graded third in run defense, but was 32nd as a cover linebacker.
What will Detroit's defensive schemes look like this offseason? Will they be a base 4-3, 3-4 or multiple? What kind of skill sets will they want in their linebackers?
"I think I can play any scheme," Whitehead said after the season. "Whether 4-3 or 3-4, inside, outside, I can play anything and anywhere. It's just a matter of learning it and training yourself to go out there and execute the job.
"I don't limit myself to a particular scheme. I play football. I play linebacker. At the end of the day, it's see ball get ball. Tackle the guy."
Whitehead (6-2, 241) is pretty similar in size to former Detroit Lions and current New England Patriots outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 243), who went from a 4-3 in Detroit to a multiple scheme in New England that has both 4-3 and 3-4 concepts.
Whitehead hadn't talked to the Lions about a new contract when he spoke to the media right after the season. He expected those conversations to be had in the coming weeks, after a new head coach was in place and it became a little clearer how he might fit into the new schemes on defense.
"For me, I'll play the waiting game," Whitehead said. "I'll sit back and just let everything fall in place."
View photos of the Detroit Lions linebackers in 2017.