- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Cassius Vaughn broke on the ball, intercepted Dan Orlovsky, and the entire Detroit Lions defensive sideline went nuts – celebrating like the pick had happened in a real game and resulted in tangible points instead of what it really was, a play made against the team’s backup quarterback during a May workout.
This, though, is perhaps one of the changes for Detroit this upcoming season.
It may only be May and it is still a long way from training camp and the start of the regular season, but one of the definitive things new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has brought to the Lions is an abundance of exuberance.
“We do like what’s going on,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We do believe in the process. That makes you have a little more energy, when everybody on the team is sold out and sold into the process and buying into what coach is doing. And everybody believes in what he’s doing.”
Part of that could just be the change in coaching staff from Jim Schwartz to Jim Caldwell – of which the most defining shift would be a personality change, for better or worse. But on defense, more seems to be changing.
The Lions will almost definitely be more multiple in their looks and their packages in 2014 – the way the team drafted somewhat hinted at that, as well as Austin being straightforward about that. They will employ specific ends – an open end and a closed end – instead of being more interchangeable last season.
The open end – likely Ezekiel Ansah – will play on the side opposite of the tight end in any formation. The closed end, for now Jason Jones, is typically bigger and will be used to try and bump on the tight end side of the field in an attempt to disrupt his route.
That will happen up front.
In the back end, there will be separate free and strong safety designations – that’s been known for a while – but how they play corner also will be changing. Expect everything to be much more aggressive with the Lions’ cornerbacks.
“I feel we’ll press way more this year,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “Way, way more. Probably every play.”
There are risks and benefits to that. The benefit is if the Lions are successful there, it will push receivers off of their routes to start. That might alleviate some of the problems Detroit had reaching the quarterback last season. Too often, they were a step or two from sacking opponents.
This could give the Lions that extra half-second to force those plays. While the true implementation and success of this will not be known until September, the beginnings of it are already there.
They look faster. They look more excited. They look more like a defense focused on causing havoc and creating turnovers from the back to the front.
“Yeah, for sure,” receiver Kevin Ogletree said. “Those guys are playing like it and bringing an intensity that we need on defense.”
While a lot of that has to do with the fiery Austin and the defensive staff he retained – Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek on the line – and hired – Bill Sheridan with linebackers and Alan Williams with defensive backs – that’s not all of it.
It isn’t necessarily the coaching or the scheme. It is how they are selling it. That type of convincing doesn’t always happen. And that begins with Caldwell.
“I’ve been a part of a new coaching staff where everything is not agreeable or coaches are not selling whatever they should sell well,” Mathis said. “But you know, you can deny a lot of things but you can’t deny honest and truth and that’s what Caldwell is.
“He’s straight and to the point. He doesn’t have to scream, doesn’t have to yell.”
He leaves that to his players when they make plays instead.