Detroit Lions Defense Preview The Lions defense last season was the lone bright spot of the team. The pass rush led by Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel was terrifying, Jordan Whitehead had a breakout season at LB with 124 tackles for fifth in the NFL and the secondary was strong with Darius Slay Jr, Nevin Lawson and Tavon Wilson Sr. However, there were still a few places that needed improving so let's see what the front office did to strengthen those spots. Defensive Ends I mentioned that the pass rush was terrifying last year and this position just got even scarier. Ezekiel Ansah was third in the league with 18 sacks and Anthony Zettel was right behind him with 15.5 sacks. Kerry Hyder Jr. tore his Achilles in the first quarter of their preseason opener last year and missed the entire season. Now he's back and looking to bounce back from the injury while also improving upon his 2016 season where he had 8 sacks. Behind those three studs there's also Cornelius Washington and Brandon Copeland. Both of these guys are incredibly fast for defensive ends and will be electric coming off the bench throughout the game. Washington is essentially a lock to make the team but Copeland will have to give the team a reason to keep around a fifth defensive end. What we know is that Ansah, Zettel, Hyder and Washington/Copeland is one hell of a pass-rushing rotation. Defensive Tackles With the retirement of Haloti Ngata the Lions had a spot open at one of top two defensive tackle spots in their 4-3 defense. Akeem Spence had a solid campaign last year with 7.5 sacks and then behind him there's third-year man A'Shawn Robinson out of Alabama and the former Ohio Bobcat Casey Sayles. The Lions also added Alabama's Da'Ron Payne with their first round draft choice. Ninth overall and he's slotted with A'Shawn Robinson as the top two defensive tackles. Fans have already started referring to them as the "Twin Tide." Behind them it will be Spence and Sayles. Spence showed last season that he can rush the passer while already being a solid run stopper. Sayles was signed off Seattle's practice squad late last season and his athleticism should fit well in the Lions' system as a pass rusher. Jeremiah "Pearl Jam Song" Ledbetter is also on the preseason roster after spending last year on the Lions' practice squad. He's entering his second season and the former Arkansas Razorback will have to really stand out in the preseason to not find himself back on the practice squad yet again. Linebackers The linebacker position went through some turnover in the offseason. I mentioned earlier that ROLB Tahir Whitehead was fifth in tackles and besides him, Jarrad Davis was the the other lock to start at MLB. The Lions elected not to re-sign Paul Worrilow and that left a spot open at LOLB. The only option on the roster heading into the offseason was Jalen Reeves-Maybin who is entering his second season now. The former Tennessee Volunteer has the quickness that the Lions like from their linebackers but they knew they needed to added depth to the position. So they signed a few depth pieces in free agency and then drafted Malik Jefferson of Texas in the second round. Jefferson is currently slotted to be the starting LOLB with Reeves-Maybin right behind him. Jefferson was drafted as an inside linebacker but the team felt Davis should stick at that position and play Jefferson on the outside. As far as the rest of the linebackers go, the main ones are Ben Heeney, Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Steve Longa. Heeney is a former Jayhawk who was signed in the offseason. He's very fast and will be used in a lot of coverage situations. Portland State alum Onwuasor is a pure athlete. Fast, hits like a truck and is solid in zone coverage but he doesn't have a lot of NFL experience and will need a lot of grooming. He's also a bit undersized for the position as he's only 6'0" and 217 pounds. Josh Harvey-Clemons was on Detroit's practice squad last year and is a similar player to Onwuasor but he's bigger at 6'4" 226. Steve Longa is one of three Rutgers products, along with Quentin Gause and Ka'Lial Glaud, in the core of linebackers in Detroit but he's the best of the bunch. Longa spent last season on the active but didn't get much playing time. He's another fast linebacker and he tackles exceptionally well. Ball carriers rarely get out of his grasp. However, his skill set is still pretty raw for the NFL and will need to improve his ability to be where he needs to be on the field. What we do know is that the three starters of Tahir Whitehead, Jarrad Davis and Malik Jefferson is a skilled, athletic group that should be very solid. Cornerbacks You can go back and forth all day on whether the Lions' defensive line or their cornerbacks is the best unit on the defense. Darius Slay Jr. is one of the best corners in the league and he's got three more years left on his deal so he's not going anywhere anytime soon. Nevin Lawson has proven to be a solid #2 corner for this team and he's got four more years on his contract so the Lions' top two corners are here to stay. Behind them there's Quandre Diggs who's a solid zone coverage corner and then the former Florida Gator Teez Tabor who's entering his second season in the league. Tabor's got the best hands in the secondary and he's still only 21 years old. How young the corners are is arguably the best part about them. Slay and Lawson are the oldest of the bunch and they're only 27. There's three other corners on the preseason roster who are competing for that #5 corner spot. Jamal Agnew, Ian Wells and Anthony Cioffi. Agnew is in his second season and he's the most well rounded of the bunch. The fastest corner on the team aside from Slay, has good hands and is decent in both man and zone coverage. Ian Wells was signed in the offseason to a 1-year deal and is good in both man and zone coverage but he can't catch anything. Anthony Cioffi will probably end up on the practice squad. He's one of six former Rutgers Scarlet Knights on the roster and the only role I can see him filling at the moment is being another body for the preseason roster. Safeties As of right now the starting safeties are Tavon Wilson Sr. at SS and Glover Quin at FS. Wilson is 28 years old and has four years left on his contract. On the FS side, Quin is getting up there in years as he's 32 years old now. Entering his tenth NFL season, there's no telling how much he could regress as a player so the front office did their job and found themselves their future at the position in the draft. Godwin Igwebuike out of Northwestern was the Lions' fifth round draft choice and the plan is to eventually see him starting at FS. The organization really likes this kid as he's got good speed, is solid in zone coverage and can tackle really well. Behind those three guys, there's Miles Killebrew, K.J. Dillon and Alex Carter. Killebrew is a menace on the field. He's not the quickest guy for a safety but, boy, can he lay the hammer down. Dillon was signed over the offseason in free agency and he's raw but he's got the potential to be a great safety. Solid in zone coverage, can tackle decently well and is very quick to the ball. Carter is more of a safety/corner hybrid. He's not the best tackler but he's good in both zone and man coverage and can even press at the line if needed. It's up to Killebrew, Dillon and Carter to battle it out in preseason and force the Lions to decide how many safeties they want to keep on the regular season roster. All in all, this defensive unit as a whole should be one of the best in the NFL and should help lead this Lions team add a few more wins to the record.