Several Lions players have talked this offseason about being more comfortable with the schemes implemented last year because they have more experience running them, including Calvin Johnson saying last week the offense is "100 percent better than last year."
Considering he wasn't with the Lions last year, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata doesn't have the perspective to compare this offseason to 2014, but said he's noticed a fluidity with how things are running with his new team.
"You come in and they get the playbook, they get the terminology, they get the technique of what the coach wants out of them and they're very comfortable with it," he said. "I guess last year they were trying to figure out what type of defense they were going to be and figure out what (defensive coordinator Teryl Austin) is about and stuff like that. Now, they get it and understand it, and I think it just seems like it's comfortable here."
The comfort level in Austin's attacking defense improved quicker than in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's scheme last year, but if Johnson's thought is accurate, the Lions should be a much more balanced team in 2015.
Ngata's performance, of course, will be paramount to ensuring the defense doesn't fall far from its finish as the second-ranked unit in the NFL. Ngata will fill in for All-Pro Ndamukong Suh at left defensive tackle, and even though he hasn't had 8½ sacks in a season like Suh had in 2014, Ngata's ability to stop the run will be critical for a unit that ranked first in that category last year.
For Ngata, transitioning to his new team after spending nine years in Baltimore was a bit easier because of his familiarity with Austin, who spent three years coaching Ravens defensive backs before the Lions hired him. Austin's defense also shares similarities with the one in Baltimore after working under Ravens defensive coordinators Chuck Pagano (2011) and Dean Pees (2012-13).
"I felt great," Ngata said of his experience this offseason. "I felt like I fit pretty good with the guys. Our room is pretty laid back and we have a lot of fun, and hopefully we can continue that throughout the season."
Continuing the fun will likely be a product of winning games.
Replacing Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley will be tough for Ngata and the Lions, but there are reasons to expect the linebacker corps and secondary to be better, which could alleviate some of the pressure on the defensive line.
Austin's defense, though, largely relies on pressure up front and in the interior, and Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, Gabe Wright and Caraun Reid will have to create enough to prevent defensive backs from being in coverage too long, especially in an NFC North loaded with receiver talent.
And even though the Lions lost two first-round picks in Suh and Fairley this offseason, they still have two, Ngata and defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who will be expected to lead the group.
"Ziggy's real quiet," Ngata said. "I don't know if you guys know that, but he's just quiet; he jokes every now and then. It's just fun to be a part of this group."