Dearborn — Under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the Lions defense will be much more aggressive in 2014, and one way the unit will contain offenses will likely be an increased use of its base formation.
The Lions deployed their nickel package in nearly two-thirds of their defensive snaps in 2013, regularly adding a third cornerback to contain three wide-receiver sets. Free-agent safety James Ihedigbo, who spent the past two seasons with Austin in Baltimore, said the defense will be more proactive rather than reactive next season.
"Our defense, we dictate what offenses are doing," Ihedigbo said Saturday at linebacker Stephen Tulloch's youth camp. "We don't let them dictate to us anything. We control the game, and that's our mind-set. When you go against us, you're going to be going against a hard-hitting, vicious, physical team on defense and on offense."
The Lions ranked in the top 16 in points and yards allowed last season, but were 23rd with 22 turnovers forced and 28th with 33 sacks. Under Austin, the defense expects to have more game-changing plays.
"We're going to be aggressive, there's no question about it," Tulloch said. "We're going to get after it — zone coverage, man, blitz; we're going to do it all. We're going to be able to mix things up."
A key reason the Lions will be able to use multiple formations is the addition of second-round linebacker Kyle Van Noy from Brigham Young. Van Noy and fellow outside linebacker DeAndre Levy both have solid coverage skills and could cover receivers if the Lions stay in their base 4-3 more often.
Although they rarely did it last season, second-year defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor are athletic enough to drop in coverage, too.
The Lions' nickel formation should also look different this year. While Bill Bentley remains the presumed slot cornerback, Van Noy said he's been learning to play stand-up defensive end, so instead of subbing Bentley for a linebacker (it was Ashlee Palmer last season) a defensive lineman could sub out.
Meanwhile, Austin has said there could be some 3-4 looks in the defense, so Palmer or another linebacker could join the rotation for that package. Levy has experience as a middle linebacker, so that could be a natural shift.
"Even though it's a passing league, you have to stop the run and make teams one-dimensional," Ihedigbo said. "From what I understand, last year (the defense) was just real vanilla. They just lined up and you kind of knew what you were going to get when you played them. And being able to move and allow Suh and Ziggy and other guys to move around and make plays, it's going to just add to the fire on defense."
Running back Reggie Bush said recently the new offense under Joe Lombardi looks "exactly" like the Saints offense the rookie coordinator worked with the past seven years in New Orleans.
Ihedigbo, though, wouldn't go that far with the comparison between Austin's defense and Baltimore’s.
While the all but one year of Lombardi's NFL experience was with the Saints, Austin spent four seasons with the Seahawks, under coordinator Ray Rhodes (also a former head coach), and three with the Cardinals, giving him several different schemes from which to base his.
Of course, there are some similarities to the Ravens' aggressive approach.
"It's awesome to see the guys flying around like they are and understanding and learning the defense so fast," Ihedigbo said. "I've been around it for a while, so when you see guys picking it up, and then they're starting to tweak things and doing assignment changes but still doing the defense, that's awesome. Guys are learning quick, and that's what you want."