Lions GM offers details on defensive scheme changes

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Bob Quinn

Allen Park — After months of context clues, small hints and conjecture, based on coach Matt Patricia’s past preferences in New England, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn finally offered some meaningful details on the schematic changes being implemented on the team’s defense when he was asked if they targeted a different style player in the 2018 draft.

“That’s a great question and yes,” Quinn said. “I mean, you guys have watched us play. Our old defensive front was very much one-gap and very much get-up-the-field, and I’d say very much less in terms of gap responsibility. So, we are much more, I’d say, conscious of technique, holding our gaps, playing sound fundamentals, rather than just getting up the field.

“We’re not really a two-gap team, right now,” Quinn said. “I’d say we’re definitely a mix depending on what front we are in, what the situation is, as a pass rush.”

In previous renditions of Detroit’s scheme, first with Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham, and in recent years under the guidance of Teryl Austin, the primary responsibility was to get into the backfield as quickly as possible to disrupt the play. Of course, that’s an over-simplification, but it’s why linemen loved to play in Detroit. Their job was to wreak havoc.

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There will still be some of that in the current scheme, situationally, but now, on many plays and packages, multiple members of the front four will be asked to defend two gaps — the space between the offensive linemen — a key principle of a 3-4 scheme. If executed, it allows the defense to better control the run lanes and frees up the linebackers — a unit the Lions invested heavily in during free agency — to make more plays.

The first signs the Lions were moving in that direction, beyond the hiring of Patricia, was the team’s approach to free agency. In addition to adding bigger linebackers to the roster, the team also signed defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, who has spent his entire pro career working as a nose tackle in a 3-4.

In the draft, the Lions added 295-pound defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, who has the perfect build to operate as a 3-4 defensive end, a position he played in college.

Hand also noted on a conference call with Detroit reporters that he has heard the Lions defense will look similar to what he played in at Alabama.