Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin sat down with The Detroit News to talk about a number of topics, including the pass rush, blitzes and rookies Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
■ Question: Injuries to some of your best players — DeAndre Levy in 2015 and Ziggy Ansah and Levy in 2016 — have contributed to slow starts the past two years. What have you learned from those experiences that can help you avoid a slow start on defense this year?
■ Answer: “You learn about the resiliency of the guys. They’ll adjust and be able to do whatever you want, but what I have to do is get our guys off faster, in terms of stuff that they feel really comfortable with, letting them do that early.
“In game planning, sometimes, you pick up some new things and do some new things that you want to do to get after your opponent, but it’s better to do some of the stuff you’ve been doing all year, let (your players) get into a rhythm, before you start doing other stuff.
“We’ll look at that, and, right now, I think our roster is constructed where we might be able to absorb some (injuries) a little bit better than we have in the past. We have better depth than we have in the past. It’s young depth, but it’s talented depth.”
■ Q. Where is your pass rush coming from this year?
■ A. “That’s going to be interesting. We expect Ziggy to be back to his normal self. From there, that’s a good question. We think we have some good inside stuff, but as you know, you need another edge rusher to really put some pressure of people. We’re going to look at some of these young guys, see if we can get some rush out of them.
“And, obviously, I’m going to have to do something scheme-wise, if possible, to free up some things and get some better matchups, if we can. We’ll look at everything we can, because we know being able rush and put some pressure on the quarterback is a big reason defenses are successful in this league.”
■ Q. Speaking of blitzing, you’ve been aggressive with it the past two seasons. Why hasn’t that been more successful?
■ A. “It’s always a combination of things. When we blitz, those guys really need to hit it, get on the edges and finish. We also have to do a good job of covering on the back end. Sometimes, when you look at it, we’re blitzing OK, but are we taking away the quarterback’s first read? If we’re able to do that, the blitzes can be a little more effective. If we’re not doing a good job blitzing, or taking away the first read, it’s not going to do well.
“I think we were in that mode last year. Two years ago, when we made the turnaround (in the second half), our guys were doing a good job getting the edge, collapsing the pocket, and that’s why we got a lot better the last half of the season. Last year wasn’t the same. We have to find a way to get back to where we were two years ago, if we need to dial those up.”
■ Q. Have you altered your coverage philosophy — keeping everything in front of you, emphasis on not giving up the big plays — after giving up a record completion percentage against last season?
■ A. “I don’t think I’ve changed my philosophy, we just have to get better at it. We’ve been playing the same coverages, structurally, for the past three or four years. We always tweak them, but it’s how we play them and playing them better, that’s what we need to do. I know I made a big emphasis, because we weren’t getting the rush, on making the offense hold it and go the long way. It served us well, in terms of points scored and giving us a chance to win in the end last year. I’m hoping we can play better coverage this year and not have to be in so many nail-biters.”
■ Q. What kind of security blanket is D.J. Hayden?
■ A. “It’s very good that we have a veteran guy. His career has been derailed a bit by injuries, but there’s no doubting the talent the guy has. He’s a very good work, good professional player. It’s nice to have a veteran guy in the room who has some skill and can play multiple positions. Flexibility in this league is key.
“Him being flexible, able to play inside, play outside, and provide the level of coverage we want, that’s good.”
■ Q. What does a successful rookie season look like for Jarrad Davis?
■ A. “It looks like a guy who is a guy who is a better player in Week 16 than he is in Week 1. That’s a successful season for him, and if he does that, we’re going to have a pretty good year on defense. He’s got a chance to be a really good player. If he’s good in Week 1 and better in Week 16, we’re going to be all right.”
■ Q. Where do you think the defense is better than it was last year?
■ A. “I’d like to think we’re going to be better at the linebacker position. I’d like to think we’ll be better, overall, at the cornerback position. And I’d like to think we’re going to be better inside, at defensive tackle — A’Shawn (Robinson), on the rise, and Akeem Spence, coming in, has really been a nice upgrade for us.”
■ Q. Who is a guy that’s flying under our radar who you expect to contribute this year?
■ A. “I think (Jeremiah) Ledbetter might contribute more than people think because we had Jordan (Hill) unfortunately get hurt. We might have to accelerate Led a little bit. He may surprise you in that regard. He’s got a nice little upside.”
■ Q. How has Jalen Reeves-Maybin impressed you since you got him in here?
■ A. “He’s really instinctive. He sees ball, gets ball. But he’s got to get stronger. He’s finding out, when he gets against big guys, sometimes he’ll get swallowed up. I think he knows that. He’s coming off a shoulder surgery, so he has some strength gains we’re hopeful he’s going to make here. If he keeps those smarts, which we think he will, he has the chance to be a pretty good player.”
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