Teryl Austin praised Lions 2013 first-round pick Ziggy Ansah, who led all rookies with eight sacks. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Mobile, Ala. — The Lions will continue to run a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but don’t expect that to be the only way the group lines up.
Austin explained his philosophy at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday, saying he wants to be aggressive and change with 3-4 looks mixed in to keep offenses guessing.
“If they’re going to score on us, they’re going to earn it,” Austin said. “We’re going to be multiple, we’re going to bring some pressure, we’re going to be able to four-man rush and hopefully they don’t know which way we’re coming (when we blitz).”
The past five years under Jim Schwartz and coordinator Gunther Cunningham, the Lions defense typically stayed in base 4-3 or a nickel look with a heavy dose of wide-9 with the ends.
When new Lions coach Jim Caldwell was with the Colts, he regularly utilized the wide-9 with ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
“We’ll make the necessary adjustments we have to to put them in the positions to make plays,” Austin said. “If that means wide-9s, it’s wide-9s. If that means tight-9s, it’s tight-9s.”
Austin also praised 2013 first-round pick Ziggy Ansah, who led all rookies with eight sacks.
“It’s a big man’s game; it’s a fast man’s game,” Austin said. “So if you can get bigger and faster, say like a Ziggy, the more of those guys you have, the better you are.”
While the defensive labels come from the positioning of the front seven, Austin’s history coaching defensive backs — his primary duty at several colleges and NFL teams since 1993 — is what made him a desirable candidate for Caldwell.
“I’ve always been one to like coordinators that have been secondary coaches because of the fact that they see everything in front of them and typically know how it all fits together, not only with pass drops but also run fits,” Caldwell said.
Austin coached the Ravens secondary the past three seasons, and although he spent 2010 as defensive coordinator at Florida, this will be Austin’s first year as an NFL defensive coordinator.
He said he expects some growing pains, but will try to overcome those by getting to know the players and learning how they react in different situations. Austin will lean on his staff, but also expects his history working with the secondary to help.
“I think it gives me a nice perspective,” he said.
“I’m not oblivious to what’s behind me or what’s in front of me. I see it all.”
Respect for Caldwell
Regardless of the roster, Austin said he wanted to come to Detroit because he would work with Caldwell again “in a heartbeat.”
This is Austin’s fourth stop as a coach with Caldwell. His first was at Penn State (1991-92) as a graduate assistant when Caldwell coached quarterbacks, followed by Wake Forest (1993-95) coaching defensive backs when Caldwell was in charge, and the last two years with the Ravens.
“I know a lot about Jim, and that’s really what made it appealing to me,” Austin said. “I know what type of individual he is. I’ve got the utmost respect for him.”
During Austin’s coaching career, he’s worked with a couple of coaches who helped influence his philosophies.
When Austin coached defensive backs with the Seahawks (2003-06), he worked under defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, a former coach with the Eagles and Packers. Austin said he still talks to Rhodes.
“I think what Ray taught me more than Xs and Os was dealing with players, and I think that was his specialty,” Austin said.
Austin also mentioned Colts coach Chuck Pagano as an influence. He worked with Pagano during the 2011 season when Pagano was the Ravens defensive coordinator.
The only remaining vacancy on defense is a secondary coach.
... Austin worked with new linebackers coach Bill Sheridan at Michigan in 2002.
... Austin met defensive line assistant Jim Washburn in 1991 when Austin was a defensive back for the Montreal Machine and Washburn was a defensive line coach for the London Monarchs in the World League of American Football.