ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Bob Quinn said after the draft that you’d have to watch closely in order to pick up all of the changes and nuances and personnel shifting the Detroit Lions might bring to their defense. It would be a different look than what the Lions had before, for sure, and for months both Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia had done their best to keep things about their defense quiet.
That had to give Thursday, when the first required-to-be-open-to-the-media organized team activity took play at the Lions' practice facility. It meant getting a first feel for what Detroit might actually look like as a defense.
And while the Lions didn’t do much by way of full 11-on-11 work in the unpadded practice, there were obvious keys of what Detroit might look like come September when the regular season opens on Monday Night Football against the Jets.
The first thing that stood out was the front seven, which ran a lot of 3-4 looks along with a smattering of four down linemen in both 4-3 and nickel packages. Patricia and Quinn had both said the Lions would be a team with multiple looks instead of the mostly 4-3 defense the Lions ran under Jim Caldwell and Jim Schwartz.
This was markedly different from that, with players moving all over. Guys listed as defensive ends stood up as outside linebackers, and everyone aggressively tried to get to the quarterback in the sparing team sessions they had.
Versatility has been the key here – has been since Quinn arrived in 2016 and accentuated further after Patricia’s hiring in February. Have guys who can play multiple positions and fill multiple roles.
“I feel like we’re a versatile group,” defensive end Kerry Hyder said. “And we do a lot of different things. We’re still getting into the thick of it and we’re still learning about it.”
Of course, this is all a long way from what the Lions will look like in September. Ezekiel Ansah was dressed but didn’t participate in any drills Thursday. Glover Quin, the defense’s leader at safety, was not in attendance for the voluntary workout, either.
The Lions had no problem moving players in and out of various positions, though. New linebacker Devon Kennard seemed to be inside and outside at linebacker. Multiple defensive linemen rotated both inside and outside. Alex Barrett, listed as a defensive end who is undersized for the position, played at least part of the day as a stand-up pass-rusher.
“We’re in just the most beginning stages,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “They are just getting lined up and it’s going to be different, I’m sure, come training camp and all that, too.”
But Stafford, one of the oldest players on the roster at age 30, has seen the Patriots before and generally has had very little success against them. So he understands what a multiple defense can look like – and what it can do to offenses.
“They are very week-to-week, very multiple, can look one way one week and another way another week. Our team will be different,” Stafford said. “I’m sure we’re going to have our own things that we’re good at, things that we’re not good at in every aspect of the team.
“We’ll try to do what we’re good at more often than not and be successful there.”
And at this point, what the Lions are doing is a lot of installation. But Thursday was a peek and a start with the understanding that there is a long way to go. But at least now, on a small level, there’s an understanding of what the Lions are working with.
“A lot of it is real basic, fundamental stuff,” Patricia said. “You know, that’s all we’re really focused on. There’s not a lot of big-picture concepts. It’s hard to say whatever we’ve been doing from a scheme standpoint, wherever we were, you know, at the end of the season last year to try and jump right in right now is really unrealistic.
“So for the most part, it’s just the terminology, the vernacular part of learning a playbook or learning a new system or learning a different system is the biggest challenge.”