August 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lions

New Lions coordinator Teryl Austin likes spirit of his defense

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Allen Park — When the Lions hired Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator, one of the first things he mentioned was the talent, starting with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

Now that he’s been in Detroit a few months, Austin said what’s impressed him most is the passion from the entire unit.

“I really like the group’s competitive spirit,” Austin said Tuesday. “When we get out there and we have a drill against the offense, they don’t like to lose. And that’s something, a lot of times you can’t find that throughout the whole group, and they’ve been that even when we go six days in a row or whatever it is.”

The Lions defense has a good mix of talent, experience, youth and leadership, and the front office hopes Austin can be the guy to make everything click.

Last season, the Lions ranked sixth in run defense, 23rd in pass defense and 15th in points allowed.

If end Ziggy Ansah develops in his second season and end Jason Jones remains healthy, the run defense should be stout.

As for the pass defense, the Lions didn’t add any cornerbacks, but Darius Slay has looked good in training camp. Austin was quick to point out that the coaches are counting on all of the cornerbacks this season, not just Slay.

“When I look at the group, they’ve come a long way,” he said. “They’re really working hard. I think the key to them is they really have to learn to play together, play with the safeties (and) figure out what we’re doing coverage-wise.”

The most likely way for the pass defense to improve is with a more aggressive blitz scheme, which Austin has been implementing.

Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who can play end in the nickel package, will play a role in the aggressive scheme.

“He shows us some pass rush when he does have an opportunity to do it,” Austin said of Van Noy. “Very smart, understands in terms of the run fits, getting in the pass coverage. It’s just going to be live game reps and seeing how far we can bring him.”

As Austin mentioned, Van Noy just hasn’t had enough reps yet. He sat out last Saturday’s scrimmage, and although he’s earned some first-team reps, he often watches from the sidelines.

Van Noy said he can’t control how much he participates in practice, but believes he’s done well learning the scheme.

“I think there’s a lot of different things that I have to get used to, but it’s coming well,” he said.

Safety James Ihedigbo, who played for Austin in Baltimore the past two years, was another key addition, and the strong safety has developed a great rapport with free safety Glover Quin.

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

One other point of emphasis has been penalties, Austin said. The Lions have drawn flags for offsides in camp, and when there was a team of NFL officials at practice last week, the secondary was often guilty of illegal contact.

“We’re letting them know in no uncertain terms that (offsides) beats you because you give the offense an extra five yards,” Austin said. “We have to learn to play with the rules. Whatever they are, however they are, whether we like them or dislike them, they’re the rules and that’s what we have to play within.”

Browns at Lions

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Ford Field, Detroit

Records: Exhibition opener

TV/radio: NFL Network, Channel 7/97.1

Line: Lions by 2½

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com
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Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin talks with linebackers Ashlee Palmer (58) and Cory Greenwood before practice Monday in Allen Park. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News