February 8, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Chris McCosky

New Lions D-coordinator Teryl Austin focused on approach, and that's a good thing

New Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin answers questions on Friday. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park — Some leftover musings from Friday’s news conferences with new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi:

■ I thought Austin provided a window into his methodology with his answers to two questions. First, he was asked if he thought the Super Bowl champion Seahawks are the new model of defense in the NFL.

“I think if you’re going to model after them, I think the thing that you like is the way they play together, the way they play for each other,” he said. “I think that’s the big thing more so than the talent they have or the scheme they have.

“In my opinion, if you have good players and you can get them all to play and buy into the team part of it, I think you have a chance to have an outstanding defense. You don’t have to do the scheme the way they do, you don’t have to do coverages they do, but you have to have a group of guys that believe in each other and believe in what we’re doing, and then you can reach great heights.”

The second window came when Austin talked about the coaches he’s worked for who helped mold him into the coach he is today. The last guy he mentioned — after new Lions coach Jim Caldwell, former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and ex-Eagles coach Ray Rhodes — was Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano.

“The one thing I saw with Chuck when he was calling defenses, if the last (call) didn’t work, that doesn’t mean the next one won’t work,” Austin said. “He always kept an aggressive mindset and his deal was, ‘Hey, we’re going to continue to attack until we just can’t attack anymore.’

“Sometimes we all get a little gun-shy. You call something, it doesn’t work and you’re afraid to go back to it. That was never his deal. He said, ‘Hey, you know what? It didn’t work and here’s why it didn’t work. Let’s get it fixed and let’s move on. We’re still going to play this defense because it’s good for us and our guys believe in it and we don’t want to show that we don’t believe in something.’”

What that tells me is Austin, while well-versed in schematics, isn’t going to get all hung up on the Xs and Os. His defenses are going to be predicated more on speed, attitude and intensity — which is very much the Seahawks’ method.

And he’s going have the courage of his convictions. He’s not going to change tactics every time the Lions give up a big play or a score.

The importance of blocking

It was interesting to hear Lombardi talk about what he likes in a tight end. While in New Orleans he had the luxury of working with Jeremy Shockey and Jimmy Graham.

“I think it’s important to have a guy that can block the point of attack,” he said. “That’s important. A lot of teams are going to (rush linebackers) these days and you need a tight end that can hold up against those guys.

“And then you want a guy that can be a pass receiver. So you’re always looking for those well-rounded guys.”

The player he was describing was Brandon Pettigrew, who will be an unrestricted free agent come March 11. I know that signing defensive end Willie Young might be the first priority other than working out an extension with Ndamukong Suh, but signing Pettigrew should be high on the list, as well.

The assumption is Pettigrew will get an offer from another team larger than what the cap-strapped Lions want to pay, but experienced do-it-all tight ends like Pettigrew don’t grow on trees. The Lions will be hard-pressed to replace him.

Lombardi didn’t seem overly concerned.

“I’ve never been in the mode of I wanted to define exactly what this player is and then you have to go find him for me,” he said. “Go find the best player you can and if it’s Jimmy Graham, we’re going to find a way to make it work. We’re going to find plays that are going to help him be successful.”

No love for Glover?

There was one head-shaking moment during Austin’s session. He was talking about what he’s learned about his players in the 17 days he’s been on the job and he was talking about having difference-makers at all three levels. Obviously, Suh and Nick Fairley up front and DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch in the middle; but then at the back end he mentioned Louis Delmas.

“I know Louis Delmas,” he said. “Watching him play, he can be a difference-maker.”

Hmm. Maybe he was looking at some old footage. For him to mention Delmas and not Glover Quin, I thought, was odd.

It is clear, though, Austin knows there has to be some personnel upgrades in the secondary.

“My feeling is this: In the NFL, you can’t have enough corners,” Austin said. “We had three pretty good corners last year (in Baltimore) and we had our work cut out for us. So, I think that obviously, that would probably be an area that we would want to make sure we strengthen up.”

Laudable lineage

It was fascinating to hear Lombardi talk about how his family shaped his career. As the grandson of Vince Lombardi, you’d expect coaching to be in his DNA and that it was a foregone conclusion that he’d end up in that profession.

Wrong.

“No, in fact, I think when you come from a football family you’re encouraged not to get into football,” he said. “My dad went off to college and told his dad that he was going to be a football coach and he was going to major in physical education. His dad said, ‘Well, that’s fine, but I’m not paying for a cent of your college then. You’re going to be a lawyer.’ So, my dad went to law school.

“Same thing with me. He said, ‘Hey, listen. Do something else. There is a lot of stress involved, it’s hard on the family.’ So you don’t go to the Air Force Academy with the thought that you’re going to be a football coach.”

It turns out, though, that football was in his blood.

“When I graduated and that first football season came around where I wasn’t involved with a football team, it felt like something was missing,” Lombardi said. “My dad said, ‘Look, if you can live without it, do it. Don’t coach. If you can’t live without it, then I don’t know what to tell you.’ I felt like I couldn’t live without it.”

Lombardi never really knew his famous grandfather so he struggled to answer the question if he realized the impact Vince Lombardi had on the game.

“It was something that you always remember being a part of your life,” he said. “In some ways, not knowing my grandfather, he was to me maybe like he was to a lot of you, you know, someone that you saw on NFL Films or ESPN specials.”

Lombardi credits his father for preparing him to deal with Vince Lombardi’s shadow.

“I knew when I became a coach that no matter how well I did, I was never going to be Vince Lombardi,” he said. “So, I don’t have that pressure hanging over my head. I’m just going to try to be the best Joe Lombardi I can.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com
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