Looking at the Lions' roster: Defense

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
5:00
PM ET
With everything the Detroit Lions are going to do over the next few months, all of it is with a very simple goal in mind.

Put together the best possible roster to make a run at the playoffs in 2014, Jim Caldwell’s first season as Detroit’s head coach.

A week into free agency, here’s a breakdown of the Lions' defense and if they are better off than they were at the end of last season. The only players mentioned are ones who were on Detroit’s 53-man roster last season.

Here’s a look at the offense from earlier Monday.

DEFENSIVE END:

Ansah
Who is back: Ziggy Ansah; Jason Jones; Devin Taylor

Who is gone: Willie Young (Chicago); Israel Idonije

Who has come in: Darryl Tapp

Who is in limbo: No one.

Are the Lions better or worse: Worse. There’s a lot of forward-thinking hope by Detroit right now with its defensive end situation. By not re-signing Young -- which, in my opinion, was a mistake -- the Lions have left themselves reliant on either a recovering Jones or a still unproven Taylor to line up opposite Ansah. Tapp was signed last week, but likely is nothing more than a rotational player as his production has dropped yearly since a strong 2008. If Jones re-emerges or Taylor develops, Detroit could be fine here, but that’s a lot of questions without definitive answers right now.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE:

Suh
Who is back: Ndamukong Suh; Nick Fairley; C.J. Mosley.

Who is gone: Andre Fluellen, most likely.

Who has come in: Corvey Irvin; Vaughn Martin

Who is in limbo: Technically Fluellen, but likely no one.

Are the Lions better or worse: The same. The main three-man rotation at defensive tackle will remain the same and could possibly improve if Fairley finally gets in shape. Either Irvin, Martin or one of the two practice squad players from last season -- Jimmy Saddler-McQueen or Xavier Proctor -- could end up as the fourth tackle. Or the Lions could slide Jones inside. But not much has changed here. The biggest issue with this group, besides Fairley’s weight and production, is Suh’s monster contract.

LINEBACKER:

Who is back: Stephen Tulloch; DeAndre Levy; Ashlee Palmer; Tahir Whitehead; Travis Lewis; Julian Stanford.

Who is gone: Rocky McIntosh

Who has come in: No one.

Who is in limbo: No one.

Barr
Are the Lions better or worse: The same. This unit has made no changes yet, although it would seem as if that could end up happening through the draft if the Lions were to look at Anthony Barr in the first round. If Teryl Austin ends up playing as much nickel as Gunther Cunningham did, this might not be an issue, but if the Lions want to run more of a true 4-3, it will need to consider finding another linebacker to challenge Palmer. Whitehead could end up with a bigger role, but he is also very valuable on special teams.

CORNERBACK:

Who is back: Chris Houston; Darius Slay; Bill Bentley; Jonte Green; Chris Greenwood.

Mathis
Who is gone: No one, yet.

Who has come in: No one, yet.

Who is in limbo: Rashean Mathis

Are the Lions better or worse: For now, worse. Mathis was signed last season as depth and turned into Detroit’s top cornerback by the middle of the season. Houston was inconsistent and Slay would need to take a major jump from his rookie season to be an effective, consistent cornerback. The talent is there with a lot of the corners, but the production hasn't been. Much like defensive end, there are a lot of questions about this position group at this time, too much to say this group will be better than a season ago.

SAFETY:

Who is back: Glover Quin; Don Carey; Dejon Gomes; Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

Who is gone: Louis Delmas (Miami); John Wendling

Who has come in: Isa Abdul-Quddus

Ihedigbo
Who is in limbo: James Ihedigbo (free agent)

Are the Lions better or worse: Worse, for now, but could end up better off. Losing Delmas is tough both from a continuity and leadership standpoint. But he was never a consistent player, too often going for the big hit instead of the safe, smart play. Plus, his knees were always going to be a question. If the Lions sign Ihedigbo, they could end up in a better position because he has familiarity with Austin and could balance Quin well. This is going to be a need position and clearly a spot the Lions are looking at in the draft, as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was in Allen Park, Mich. on Monday visiting the Lions. So this group should end up better off, but just are not there yet.

SPECIALISTS:

Who is back: Sam Martin (punter); Don Muhlbach (long-snapper)

Who is gone: David Akers (kicker)

Who has come in: John Potter (kicker); Giorgio Tavecchio (kicker)

Who is in limbo: No one.

Are the Lions better or worse: Better. Muhlbach is one of the best in the game at long snapping. Martin should improve from his rookie season, when he was a good punter, to his second season. Akers had issues for most of the season and had both field goals and extra points blocked. While Potter and Tavecchio have not had a ton of experience in the NFL, they will both get a shot at the job.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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