Detroit Lions: Teryl Austin

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Nevin Lawson was prepared for anything, although the Detroit Lions' rookie cornerback didn’t want the "anything" to really happen like this.

Ever since the Lions drafted him in the fourth round, Lawson had mentally prepared himself to be a starter, or at least a contributor, during his rookie season. He did so even if everything about him, from his size to his skill to the somewhat small Utah State school he attended, screamed that he’d be a developmental project.

Lawson
That development needs to be quicker now. Bill Bentley’s season-ending injury means Lawson is about to play a whole lot.

“In my head, especially coming in as a rookie, it’s always to play and be the best that you can be,” Lawson said. “In my head, I always thought I could be a starter or eventually be a starter.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell committed to Lawson as his slot cornerback Friday, merely confirming what had appeared obvious from the time Bentley was put on injured reserve after he suffered a torn ACL against the New York Giants.

It was an immediate indoctrination to the NFL for Lawson, who was forced to match up against one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, Victor Cruz, when he was put into the game for 49 snaps against the Giants.

Considering the circumstances and that the Lions were planning on using him exclusively on special teams Monday night, he handled it well.

“We weren’t planning on him playing a whole bunch,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “… Nevin went in there and the thing we talk to our guys about is they are always one play away, and I think that’s a testament to what Tony [Oden] and Alan [Williams] are doing in the back end, teaching those guys.

“That a young guy who wasn’t supposed to play or people thought he wasn’t ready to play went in there and played well. They did a great job with him.”

The competent play came in pass coverage, too. Pro Football Focus charted Lawson as being targeted four times by New York quarterback Eli Manning, allowing three completions. One was a 20-yard reception to Cruz, according to PFF, but that was the only pass Cruz caught against the rookie.

Lawson, for his first go-round, will take that. He’ll also take the experience facing Cruz in his debut will give him both this week against Carolina and the rest of the season, where he’s likely to stay in the nickel role.

“It definitely helps,” Lawson said. “It’s game experience and going against good quarterbacks and good receivers like that definitely helps you to move forward into the next week, to help your preparation.

“[Such as] 'OK, I should do this better and I did this good, so I can keep on doing this.' It definitely helps.”
The advantage will disappear as the weeks go by, as the Detroit Lions play more games and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin starts to unload more of his schemes and playbook.

Right now, though, heading into the opener, Austin has as much of an advantage as he would a disadvantage since he’s never called NFL plays before.

Simply, it’s because he’s never called NFL plays before.

Yes, there are four preseason games for the New York Giants to study. There’s games from the last two seasons, when he was Baltimore’s secondary coach, since there figures to be things Eli Manning could read about how Austin used his defensive backs.

And there’s the one season in 2010 at the University of Florida when Austin called his own plays.

Yet there is still an element of mystery of what the Giants -- and everyone else -- will see Monday night.

“It’s always going to be an issue when you, in fact, don’t have a lot to go by,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “You pick your spots in the preseason games and study basically when the [starters] are in there or notice anything different or unusual in a pressure or a coverage or an adjustment to a coverage.

“But other than that, we’ve got to go play and play our game and be prepared to adjust no matter what happens.”

Coughlin said the Giants have gone back “as far as we should go” to try and decipher what Austin may have his defense do in 2014. The Giants have also looked at last season’s Detroit games, which is typical to try and get a feel for the players they’ll face, even if the scheme could look different.

“They could possibly come with a little bit more pressure and bring some different looks than Detroit’s done in the past,” Manning said. “We’ll have to see on [Monday] what their plan is and what they’ll be showing.”

From what Austin has shown and said so far, it is fair to expect more blitzing from the Lions’ linebackers than last season, when the team blitzed 19.6 percent of the time, third-lowest in the NFL. Expect some multiplicity, too, as the Lions have done everything from a base 4-3 defense to a 4-4 to the typical nickel and specialty defenses in the preseason.

Also expect a lot of attention on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who can create havoc for an opposing offense if left in single blocking coverage. The offensive line has been an issue for the Giants in 2013 and so far in 2014 as well.

“They are a very, very good defensive front,” Coughlin said. “They are aggressive. They are penetrators. They are powerful.

“So they cause certainly significant problems as you prepare.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are already preparing to unleash wide receiver Calvin Johnson on Friday for the first time this preseason.

Now, another player might be joining him.

Ansah
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday that he is hopeful defensive end Ezekiel Ansah will also make his preseason debut against Jacksonville at home on Friday night.

Ansah was activated from the PUP list last week and was immediately ruled out for last week’s game at Oakland. Now, he’s played a little bit more and is closer to being on the field.

"He’s responded well. We got him in a little bit more scrimmage plays in practice," Caldwell said. "We increased him on a daily basis. Hopefully, we’ll check with the doctors to see after today’s practice where he is, and hopefully he’ll be able to get some snaps."

Ansah missed spring workouts and the beginning of training camp as he recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. He practiced for the first time last Tuesday night.

When Ansah does return to the lineup, he is expected to play the open defensive end position in coordinator Teryl Austin’s new scheme. Ansah was a surprise as a pass-rusher during his rookie season for Detroit, when he led all first-year players with eight sacks.

Expect him to fill a similar role this season with the Lions.

"We’ve only had him back for a week or so but when you look at him, he’s extremely talented. Explosive. Big. Fast," Austin said. "So for him, it’s just going to be a matter of technique, continuing to work on his technique, because he’s still pretty young as a football player, but work on his technique and knowing how to apply that to offensive tackles and the guy that he’s going to attack and being able to use that in a game.

"But he has a chance to be an outstanding rusher."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It started in Houston, shortly after James Ihedigbo signed with the Detroit Lions during free agency. His new safety-mate, Glover Quin, also lived in town during the offseason. So the idea was hatched.

Quin and Ihedigbo decided as a way to learn about each other and to start to build the chemistry needed between safeties before they arrived in Michigan, they would work out together. So each day this offseason, Quin and Ihedigbo showed up at Nine Innovations, a gym in Houston, to train together.

[+] EnlargeJames Ihedigbo
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThe Lions say that safety James Ihedigbo has used his communication skills to help boost the secondary.
This lessened the getting-to-know-you period and also put both players in a habitat they were innately comfortable with: Where they actually live. Immediately, the players saw a significant bond. They both have children. They both have similar approaches to how they study the game.

And through that, the bond began to grow.

“It helps a lot because I get to see how he works, he gets to see how I work, we get to encourage each other, push each other,” Quin said. “We get to work together and you can build chemistry doing that just by learning how he works, him learning how I work. Learning what he likes to do, him learning what I like to do.

“Just little things like that. You can get a lot done just hanging out with each other every single day.”

Quin learned Ihedigbo likes to cook, although he said he hasn’t had one of Ihedigbo’s meals just yet. He also would ask the occasional football question, not about new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but about the scheme they were going to end up running.

Austin wasn’t calling the defensive schemes in Baltimore, but he was Ihedigbo’s position coach so he had more understanding of what Detroit might run than other players. And part of the reason Iheidgbo ended up with the Lions at all was the trust Austin has in him. Knowing him and how he would likely mesh with Quin was a big factor in Austin’s pursuit of Ihedigbo.

“You have two high-character veterans, so they know for us to play well, they have to play well,” Austin said. “They have to communicate and they have to be problem-solvers in the back. They’ve done that with the young guys and it helps.

“What that’ll do is cut down on big plays, cut down on breakout runs, all those different things.”

They are able to do that with the chemistry they’ve built -- and a similarity between them their teammates have seen. Last season, Quin and Louis Delmas were exceedingly different, both in personality and in style of play.

Delmas was the extremely aggressive playmaker who relied heavily on instinct and would be prone to sometimes pushing too hard. He was also loud and boisterous -- in many ways the emotional heart of the defense. Quin was the more studious player who offered a consistency and always appeared to be in the correct place at the correct time.

Ihedigbo, in many ways, is like Quin. Having two players who are similar could offer more flexibility -- something paramount at almost every position in Austin’s defense. Both Ihedigbo and Quin can play closer to the line of scrimmage if necessary, giving the Lions options both in disguising defensive backfield coverage, safety blitzes and run support.

“They work great because it’s a bond, more of a sense,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “They’ve been there just communicating before practice, working with each other. They are more likely to get a bond with each other outside of football.

“…You could tell when [Ihedigbo] came into meetings. He came in and said things like, you know, we’re young here and we’ve got to communicate [with] film study and everything.”

It’s an influence Austin and the safeties hope percolates throughout the defensive backfield. The Lions' secondary has been one of the bigger questions of the offseason and other than Ihedigbo, the Lions did not add much to bolster it.

So a lot should be expected of the safety pairing in both making plays and educating the rest of the secondary.

“We fit great,” Ihedigbo said. “We think alike. We can play off each other. Really have that good chemistry.”

Detroit is counting on it.
DETROIT -- Kellen Moore doesn't have a Detroit Lions' roster spot locked up, but he might have made a good first impression on his new coaches.

The third-year player from Boise State, who has been the No. 3 quarterback on the team since his rookie year, led a game-winning drive completed with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Corey Fuller with a little over a minute left Saturday night to give Detroit a 13-12 win over the Cleveland Browns.

While it will help Moore's case for a spot -- it was a perfect throw -- it might aid Fuller even more. Fuller beat his defender perfectly on the play and caught the ball in stride.

Fuller is in the midst of an intense competition at receiver and was the only player to score a touchdown.

Here are some other thoughts on the Lions' first preseason game of the year:
  • It is only one game and the offense is obviously condensed, but the Lions have to hope Matthew Stafford stays healthy this season. Dan Orlovsky was average in his return to Detroit. He often settled for the checkdown, ended up on the run or waiting too long to make decisions. It would be interesting to know what his instructions were in the game. His passes also often looked off-target, even on shorter screens. Orlovsky was 12-of-23 for 89 yards and was sacked once.
  • Montell Owens had a nice game for the Lions as he competes with Jed Collins and, theoretically, Mikel Leshoure, for a roster spot. While he didn't receive a carry, he had an excellent block pickup in the third quarter to buy Orlovsky time. In the first half, he had a massive special teams hit in kick coverage. He knows their way to a spot is through special teams and Owens is quite good at that facet of the game.
  • The Lions appeared to use some 4-4 on defense. Not enough for it to be a base package, but enough for it to be noticed. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and players have mentioned the multiplicity of the defense often and that appears to be an early wrinkle unveiled.
  • Drops again were a little bit of an issue on the first few series of the game while starters and key reserves were in there. On the flip of that, receiver Ryan Broyles looked fairly healthy in his first action since his Achilles injury last season. He caught three passes for 27 yards and made it through the game healthy. He's been pretty buried on the depth chart so far this summer and has to continue to have strong performances like Saturday to have a shot at a roster spot.
  • Kicking data: Nate Freese made both of his field goals in the first half, although both were somewhat chip shots -- 33 and 37 yards. Meanwhile, Giorgio Tavecchio made the game-winning extra point. Freese and Tavecchio also handled kickoffs as the Lions try to keep Sam Martin's leg as fresh as possible for the season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The hands stuck out the most.

That is what Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay remembers about Johnny Manziel (a.k.a. Johnny Football, a.k.a. the quarterback sensation in Cleveland) before he even took a single NFL snap, which happens Saturday night in Detroit. Manziel is not an overly imposing guy for a quarterback, but then Slay saw the hands he throws the ball with.

And perhaps more than his legs and his moxie and his elusiveness, they caught his attention.

Slay
“Biggest hands I’ve seen,” Slay said. “Yeah, you know. Most quarterbacks that [are] 6-foot ain’t got that big of hands like that. I think his hands are bigger than most people I ever saw.

"They are real big. He probably wears a four-inch glove or something."

Slay should remember Manziel well. The then-redshirt freshman quarterback destroyed Mississippi State during Slay's redshirt freshman season, completing 30 of 36 passes for 311 yards and rushing 21 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns, part of a season that led to a Heisman Trophy and the quarterback turning into a household name.

Slay had four tackles and a pass breakup in what was a 38-13 Texas A&M trouncing.

"I ain’t never heard of him until that year," Slay said. "But he is very talented. Got a good gift."

Part of that gift is making plays when everything looks lost for his team. It is what makes him both an unpredictable quarterback and an incredibly gifted one.

So what does Slay consider the biggest challenge facing him? He offered something that might be the best advice in dealing with the rookie quarterback. Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and head coach Jim Caldwell, when asked about Manziel this week, said they are focused on the Lions right now.

"Just keeping him in the pocket," Slay said. "He gets outside the pocket, he’s a dangerous guy. Just keep him in the pocket and play ball. Make him make the tough throws."

College is different than the NFL, though, and one of the more interesting things for Manziel will be what happens when he does end up outside of the pocket.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh insisted he would not let his lack of a contract beyond the 2014 season distract him at all throughout this season.

A week in, it would appear that he is being true to his word.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Ndamukong Suh
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh's focus has been on point during the Detroit Lions' training camp thus far.
The fifth-year defensive tackle has left a strong impression on his new coaches and teammates during the first week as he has shown up exactly as they would have expected: Ready to play and focused on having a strong season.

“He’s outstanding,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “Being in the league, you watch him. You know he’s a great player. Then you get here and you have a chance to work with him and you see why he’s a great player.

“He works his tail off. He’s a true professional in every sense of the word and every time he comes out here to practice, he practices. He practices like you’re supposed to.”

That includes making life difficult for the Lions’ offensive line, something he has done often during the first week of practice as Detroit continues to pick up the offensive and defensive schemes. He has been in the backfield often during team periods -- even if it is a difficult situation for defensive linemen because they can’t hit quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore.

But to one observer at practice Tuesday, Suh remains the best defensive tackle in the league.

“If there’s one that’s better in the league, I want to see him, you know,” said former Lions coach Steve Mariucci, who was in town with his job on NFL Network. “And he can get better, too. He can still improve his technique and all of that and he’s around other good defensive linemen, so they can’t just concentrate on Suh.”

That was supposed to be an attractive commodity last season as well, but teams still focused heavily on Suh in the Wide 9 defensive scheme the Lions used that resulted in little blitzing and a dearth of sacks. Earlier in the offseason, team president Tom Lewand said the Lions built their defense around a strong defensive line -- one that now features three first-round picks in Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah, along with contributors Jason Jones, Devin Taylor and C.J. Mosley in heavy rotation.

All those players except for Jones -- who was injured -- had roles last season. So despite the talent on the line, the Lions managed only 33 sacks last season and had seven games with less than two sacks as a team.

That should change this season, as the Lions are going to be a defense that sends much more pressure from a variety of different spots -- not just the defensive line. Last season, Detroit blitzed only 19.6 percent of the time.

“It’s fun. Obviously we have a new regime here and a new coordinator,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “We can get after it a little bit more. We can fly around and make plays.”

That begins with the defensive line being able to gain pressure both on its own and with the aid of the blitz. And any defensive line talk begins with Suh, who is a dominant player in the middle.

It was the entirety of the defensive line that stood out to Mariucci on Tuesday, though.

“Starting with that defensive line in their individual period, I haven’t seen anything like that in a long time,” Mariucci said. “It’s a talented group with a lot of energy getting well coached.

“That’s a scary defensive line.”

And one that needs to play up to its talent level for the Lions to have success this season.
The Lions, lying in wait for the new year ...

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- In the small switchover of the Detroit Lions roster earlier this week, the team picked up a defensive end not many people have heard of from a school not exactly overflowing with NFL-level talent in Michigan.

Yet there Kalonji Kashama was Tuesday, dressed with the rest of his new Detroit Lions teammates. Kashama went undrafted out of Eastern Michigan this year -- not surprising considering the school rarely produces winning seasons and has about a handful of players in the NFL right now.

Two of them, though, reside in Detroit on the defensive line. One is Jason Jones, who could end up as the team's closed defensive end and has had a productive NFL career so far. The other is Kashama, who projects as a rush end. That's what the Lions apparently liked out of him when they saw him in rookie minicamp last month.

So they signed him Monday and he was out there Tuesday.

"We saw that he had a nice little burst off the edge and he can run and possibly do some pass rush," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "Anytime you have a guy that can possibly be a type of pass rusher in this league, you're going to make sure you further examine him and see if he can really do it."

Kashama agreed to the typical three-year base salary deal most undrafted rookie free agents grab on to. He had 104 career tackles and 12 sacks at Eastern Michigan and after showing rushing ability in minicamp, he has a roster spot for now.

And now, a look across the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions, at least when it comes to media viewings, are done with organized team activities.

Soon enough, the Lions will all depart Allen Park, Michigan, for a final vacation before the grind of training camp begins in July. So what happened Tuesday out at Lions practice?

Here are some observations of what you might have heard and what you might -- or might not -- have missed.
  • Fairley
    Let’s start with Nick Fairley. The biggest topic of conversation over the past week or so has been how would the big defensive tackle look. While I wrote he had slimmed down, that probably isn’t a fair enough description. At least from a small distance, it looks like he completely reshaped his body. He appears much leaner on the sides, as well as having lost some of his stomach. That will come with dropping 30 or so pounds, but his transformation has been impressive. Of course, with him, the key will be keeping the weight off and staying in shape. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin seems focused on doing that, and with Fairley in a contract year, Fairley is probably a bit more keen on doing that as well. There is money at stake as well. From listening to Fairley talk, though, there might be a bit of pride as well. He said he thought his option should have been picked up, so he might have some proving to do. If Detroit gets a motivated Fairley this season, it could be really interesting to watch.
  • With Golden Tate (shoulder) and Kris Durham (undisclosed) sitting out, it gave some of the other wide receivers a chance to get some meaningful reps. Kevin Ogletree, back from dental surgery, had a fairly strong practice. He made all the easy grabs, some tough ones and seemed to run his routes fairly well. He’s in a battle for a roster spot -- likely will be throughout camp -- and the more showings he can have like Tuesday, the better his chances are. He already caught offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s eye during this OTA period. The competition for the backup roster spots at receiver behind Calvin Johnson and Tate are going to be some of the most competitive battles in camp.
  • Waddle
    There is going to be a competition at right tackle again. Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle have been spending time with the first group on the offensive line. This could end up similar to last season, when Hilliard, Waddle and the since-departed Jason Fox were vying for that spot. The good thing for Detroit is that both guys proved more than capable when they were in the lineup last season and both will have roles on the roster. This is a good problem to have for Detroit.
  • DeAndre Levy left practice midway through to have his left foot worked on and taped, but it did not appear to be serious. It ended up being a fairly light day for veterans overall. Missing practice along with Tate and Durham were Safety James Ihedigbo, running back Joique Bell and tight end Joseph Fauria.
  • One of the better defensive plays Tuesday came from safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, who had a good read and a breakup on a Matthew Stafford pass. Unfortunately, because of where the media was situated for most of practice, some of the results of plays were blocked from view.
  • Overall, the offense looked better than it has during the previous two OTA sessions, when the defense was dominant and overall much louder. Tuesday’s practice felt a bit more even than the prior two when it came to the competitive level of the offense against the defense. Stafford also looked sharper than he has the prior two weeks. As he said Monday, though, OTAs are going to be an up-and-down period.
  • Drops, which were a major issue during last week’s OTA, didn’t seem to be as much of an issue this week. Eric Ebron had one in the team portion -- an easy, should-have-had short reception -- but other than that, the Lions were much cleaner this time around.
  • No kicking period this time around, so nothing new to report there in the competition between Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- At first glance, Nick Fairley doesn't look like himself anymore and that is probably one of the things he would most like to hear.

The appearance of the Detroit Lions' defensive tackle in his giant No. 98 uniform is almost striking because it isn't nearly the size it once was before. He looks almost completely different from the 320-pound player he was last season, the player who couldn't really stay on the field, who danced during stretching and who gave the appearance of not caring much about his appearance.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
Paul Sancya/AP PhotoDefensive tackle Nick Fairley, who apears to be a few pounds lighter, takes part in the Detroit Lions' practices on Tuesday.
While Fairley didn't participate fully Tuesday during the Lions' organized team activity as he continues to recover from surgery to help cure his sleep apnea, he just looks like a different player. The sizeable gut that he once had is now hardly noticeable.

Down to somewhere between 290 and 295 pounds, Fairley knew he had to lose the weight even before Detroit declined his fifth-year option earlier this year. It was something he had to do for himself.

"I didn't feel comfortable with myself. My body. I was getting tired so I just felt like if I got down to a lighter weight I'd be leaner, meaner and ready to go," Fairley said.

Before, he used to go to Burger King and McDonald's "on the heavy" and ordered pizza all the time. To lose the weight, he cut out his thrice-weekly trips to the fast food joints and went to -- no joke -- Subway, which coincidentally, fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a pitchman for. By going on the sandwich diet, he actually found himself losing weight.

He added a diet of baked chicken and grilled fish to the plan and the pounds he once carried started falling away. He's trying to become the player he was when the Lions drafted him with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 draft.

"I feel comfortable where I'm at right now," Fairley said.

That's a big key for the not-quite-as-big defensive tackle. He is entering a contract year now after the team declined the option -- a situation he said he both understood but was initially surprised by. A situation he seems to be fine with, but at the same time, he said he felt he would have had his fifth-year option picked up by the club.

And he's in a defense he thinks could really help him turn into that pick Martin Mayhew envisioned.

"It puts us in better position," Fairley said. "Everyone in the defensive line can play any position if you look at it. That kind of puts us in position to make plays for the whole team."

A lot of that comes from new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who is doing more than merely changing the scheme on Fairley. He seems to be dictating his training regimen a little bit more. While Fairley never really stretched during warmups before games, he said he lifts weights a lot.

He had found out about the option not being picked up during a workout in Houston -- so he kind of dispelled his non-working hard notion there. Yet Austin seems focused on making sure Fairley stays in this shape.

"We're going to have structure here," Austin said. "So he's going to have weight lifting. He's going to have things that he's going to have to take care of. So, that's part of our whole program, to make sure there's a structure, there's something to follow, there's a plan to follow.

"There is not going to be a whole lot of freelancing. We want guys to be football players, but to just say, ‘OK, you go ball,' we're not going to do that."

Fairley seems OK with that as long as he keeps the weight off. After minicamp next week, he already has a plan in place. He'll go home, play with his family, hang out with his dog and eat some gumbo with his mom. He'll take a week or so off and then start working out again.

After a year being uncomfortable with his weight, Fairley is back at the weight he wants. If his level of play can also get there, the Lions might finally see a full return on their first-round investment.
Like last week, a ton of great questions entering the final week of Detroit Lions OTA practices.

A reminder, to ask a question for the Mailbag, either use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email michael.rothstein@espn.com. So let's get to it.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Joe Lombardi sees what everyone else has with the Detroit Lions. Two weeks into organized team activities (OTAs), two open practices and the team’s defense is making the offense look like it is run by a first-time offensive coordinator.

This has not deterred Lombardi, who Jim Caldwell plucked from the New Orleans’ quarterbacks room to head up his offense in his second NFL head coaching gig. Lombardi believes. He also understands the nuance that will come with his offense will likely mean it will take a little bit of time to mesh.

Even as the defense continues to make play after play.

“Always at this point you can have that appearance,” Lombardi said. "You know, the big thing to me is I don’t even necessarily concern myself as much as whether we won the play or not.

“Listen, I know these plays work. I know that the offense that we’re developing will work.”

He has this confidence because he has seen it before, albeit with a different quarterback and set of wide receivers. Lombardi believes because he knows the Saints' offense turned Drew Brees -- then a good quarterback but one ultimately dispensable by San Diego because of the presence of Philip Rivers -- into one of the NFL’s elite players.

So he thinks it’ll happen again, even if the defense is ahead right now. Even Reggie Bush, who ran this offense in New Orleans, agreed that the defense is playing better than the offense at this point.

Yet Lombardi is defending his offense already because of what the Detroit defense has been able to do -- and how they have let the offense know about it.

“Defense always chirps,” Bush said. “It’s part of what they do.”

The team’s new defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, helps there. He is a ball of energy and the enthusiasm he displays extends down to his assistant coaches and then to the players. They love the scheme. They like the aggression. They believe in what they are doing and seeing.

Not that the offense doesn’t -- the players there have also been positive about what the Lions are doing -- but when the defense can perform more on instinct than worrying about steps two weeks into OTAs, that’s a pretty strong sign.

“I think we had a good day, man,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said Wednesday. “Got after it, made some plays. The offense, they get paid, too, but dominated today, man.

“We were just flying around. There are so many different things in our scheme and so many looks.”

It has given Detroit some flexibility and versatility with what it plans on doing, from lining up ends inside the tackles to rush lanes for linebackers to coverages that can disguise plays to help the secondary. It is all stuff that has been done before, but for the Lions right now, it feels shiny and new.

And the Lions' defenders -- from the old ones to the new ones -- all know what the team spent on the offense both this offseason and in offseasons prior. They know the offense is supposed to be one of the best in the NFL.

So that leaves them asking -- why not us, too. If that happens, Detroit’s defense might be in better shape than anyone anticipated.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It never felt completely right for Detriot Lions cornerback Bill Bentley the past two seasons. It wasn't a comfort thing as he is never going to actually be comfortable. It was somewhat of a confidence thing.

He was still learning how to play cornerback in the NFL. He was trying to navigate the biggest and fastest wide receivers in the world while also trying to understand the position he had to play and the role in the slot he had to embrace.

[+] EnlargeBill Bentley
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesBill Bentley, now in his third year with the Lions, knows he has to prove himself this season.
It led to a season of barely playing as a rookie and then an inconsistent 2013, where a good game followed a poor one, where the mistakes happened week-after-week as he was figuring everything out.

Now, he understands, that can't happen anymore.

"I'm never going to get comfortable,” Bentley said. "It's just feeling myself a little bit, with swagger. That competitive nature, man, you know what I'm saying.

"Like knowing that, come on, man, it's my third year, I can't get beat no more. Can't keep getting beat on the same things.”

Bentley's improved confidence is obvious. When he's asked if he feels faster, stronger or more instinctual this offseason than he has during his first two years with the Lions, he spins the question back.

He's curious in the onlooker's opinion. The answer is he wouldn't be asked about it if it weren't necessarily true. He's curious, though, if he actually does look how he feels.

He does. While he's spent the majority of time in the nickel this offseason as well -- a place he spent the majority of last season as the Lions rotated cornerbacks on the outside all season long -- he realizes he needed to look like a more confident player.

"Definitely feel more instinctive,” Bentley said. "I put on a little weight so I feel stronger. I feel more comfortable coming into my own. Still learning the scheme, you know what I'm saying. Not where I want to be as a player mentally.

"Trying to just be smarter on the field and see things faster and react faster. Everything else is coming along.”

So is understanding the new defense implemented by coordinator Teryl Austin, a former defensive backs coach. The entire team, both offense and defense, are still learning the new schemes, but the defense has appeared to pick things up faster than the offense.

That includes Bentley, and it is all about the renewed confidence he last truly possessed in college.

"Last year, it wasn't really like my first year because I played my first year, but I didn't really play. So last year was kind of like sticking my feet back in the water," Bentley said. "So I didn't really get to drown my head in it.

"This year, I'm trying to put my whole head into it, my whole body into it and just take off like a rocket, man. Just trying to make more plays than ever, man."

Part of that is staying healthy.

During Bentley's rookie season, he played in four games and eventually ended up on injured reserve after shoulder surgery. Last season, he played in 13 games but had injuries, including a head injury that ended his season after a collision with Louis Delmas.

In an effort to stay healthy this season, he added some weight -- he wouldn't say how much -- and he spent his down time at home in Pahokee, Florida, at his mom's house. There, he would rest, get massages and work on straight-line running before he resumed training in the city known as Muck City.

He said his mom, Andrea, "babied me" while he was in Pahokee and took care of him as he did what he could to make sure he could play 16 games this season. He understands this is a massive year for him professionally. General manager Martin Mayhew has said if a cornerback can't pick up the nuances and make improvements by his third season in the league, he likely is never going to.

This is now Year Number Three for Bentley.

After two seasons with injuries, he needs to prove his place in the NFL. With a somewhat open competition at his position, he also realizes this might be his chance to move from a role player on the outside to a dependable NFL cornerback.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Devin Taylor sees the chance. There is a wide open hole at defensive end opposite Ezekiel Ansah, and the second-year pro understands what winning the job could mean.

Taylor
Taylor
A bigger role, which is something he has craved since he was drafted out of South Carolina last season. It also could signify the beginning of a more versatile placement for Taylor, who has the size and speed to play defensive end and could fit in quite well in new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s scheme.

Like many of the defensive linemen Detroit has now, he is starting to figure out how to be multiple, as in play both inside and outside. Having that versatility could end up huge for him as Austin would like to have multiplicity available in his defense.

“I played a little bit (inside) last year,” Taylor said. “Learned some of the different techniques they had for us then.

“Just now I’ll probably get more of a bigger role this year for inside as well.”

Last season, he primarily was a spot reserve, backing up Ansah and Willie Young after Jason Jones was injured against Washington in Week 3. Ansah is still here, but has missed OTAs so far as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Jones is here, but somewhat limited as he returns from the patella tendon tear that cost him last season.

And Young departed in free agency for Chicago, leaving Taylor an opportunity for repetitions and a chance to show he can be more than just the role player he was a season ago.

In that role, Taylor had 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 288 defensive snaps. His numbers in his rookie year were similar to Young’s second season -- the first time he saw any real defensive action. In 2011, Young had 14 tackles and three sacks in 238 defensive snaps.

Though the scheme is new and the coordinator different, the Lions are hoping Taylor can make the leap in his second year that Young did in his fourth year. The scheme could help that, as Young rarely lined up inside last season. Taylor already has some comfort playing in both spots.

He already knows what he has to do in order to make that happen -- and to increase the role he so badly wants.

“Just using my hands a lot more and being able to extend from the blocker,” Taylor said. “Being able to get off blocks and stuff and make more plays.”
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.

[+] EnlargeWide receiver Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesPress coverage will likely be the norm for Detroit's cornerbacks, including Rashean Mathis, this season.
“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.

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