Allen Park — The Lions return the core of a defense that improved — but still ranked 23rd against the pass last season.
The front seven is mostly intact, but with Darius Slay replacing Chris Houston at cornerback, the secondary appears to be one of the position groups to watch in the preseason.
One of the biggest changes is the addition of safety James Ihedigbo, who takes over for Louis Delmas. Ihedigbo, entering his seventh season, played the last two seasons with the Ravens and is looking to bring a disciplined and hard-hitting style to a much-maligned position group for the Lions.
Ihedigbo, 30, has been steady in training camp and is looking to carry that play over into the preseason games, beginning Saturday against the Browns.
“Our major goal is to get out on a good foot, play team defense and play at a high speed and a high tempo,” Ihedigbo said.
Though the offense has gotten much of the attention in the offseason, Ihedigbo said the defense is looking to make a mark as well.
“The defense is great. You can say I know the defense but coming from Baltimore doesn’t mean anything. It’s about our Lions style,” he said. “What are we going to be as the Lions and what is our definition of defense this year? We’re out here working every day getting better and trying to go on Saturday and starting on the right foot.”
Ihedigbo had his best season last year, with 100 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. His experience will be valuable, especially with a second-year corner in Slay and an experienced front seven that will look to create turnover opportunities with pressure on the quarterback.
But in Saturday’s preseason opener, the focus will be on the fundamentals and working out the kinks in a new defensive system.
“We’re looking out there to execute on our end; we’re not so much concerned about them,” he said. “We’re concerned about us playing at a high tempo and playing Lions-style football.”
For coach Jim Caldwell, it’s about the basics of getting on and off the field and getting the plays called and run correctly.
“Really, the big thing that we are trying to do is see if they can get lined up properly, execute their techniques properly, make certain that if they’re on defense how well they can tackle, how well they run to the ball, see how they match up with the speed with a different team other than our own and just to see how they handle themselves,” Caldwell said.
“You get an opportunity to really kind of size them up and see where they fit.”
Ihedigbo was out of Thursday’s practice briefly to address an injury concern, but returned after seeing a trainer.
“It’s just typical training camp aches and bruises,” he said. “I got kicked in the calf — nothing serious.”
It’s all part of the dog days of camp, where the goal is to ramp up the workload, from wearing no pads and shorts up to full pads and searing heat, as was the case on Thursday.