One can’t discuss the Detroit Lions without noting the transformative effect Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn has had on the team. His fiery persona on display in last year’s “Hard Knocks,” which captured him passionately engaging with former assistant head coach, Duce Staley, still resonates with the team. During the Lions’ third day of OTAs, Glenn’s unmistakable energy seemed to set the tone for what might prove to be a promising season.
Undeterred by the rough start to the previous season, Glenn seems more focused on the lessons learned during the team’s late-season surge. Evidently, Glenn’s fervor has been contagious as players like CJ Gardner-Johnson and Kerby Joseph were seen energetically motivating their defensive teammates (and talking smack to the offense). Their increased communication signifies the team’s dedication to their new partners.
Reflecting on the expectations of vastly improved defense, Glenn stated:
With the additions that we have, we better be. I mean listen, I give a lot of credit to what our guys did the last 10 games of playing. I’m looking for us to be aggressive, be smart, be tough, play football like it should be played. This is going to be fun.
Fitting the Mold on Defense
The Lions have had an active offseason, and Aaron Glenn couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the team’s acquisitions in free agency and through the draft. He gave much credit to the Lions’ personnel department, stating, “The pieces that they brought in, the pieces that really fit who we are as a team, really smart guys, really tough guys, every piece they brought in, like fits us to a tee.”
Looking specifically at the new additions, Glenn expressed confidence in their ability to contribute. He revealed CJ Gardner-Johnson will continue playing nickel and safety just as he did in New Orleans. As for Tracy Walker, Glenn was clear about his feelings surrounding his return once he gets back to 100% following an Achilles injury suffered in 2022.
I’ll tell you what, we’re excited to have him back when he comes back.
Concerning second-year players, Aidan Hutchinson was praised for his exceptional performance last season. Glenn’s expectations for Hutchinson in the coming year are nothing short of optimistic, “A really, really good player…expect him to take another step, as far as being a dominant player, being on the edge, in the run and in the passing game.”
Meanwhile, Glenn pointed to Alim McNeill’s seriousness about football and his determination to improve, explaining, “You’ve seen his body… the way he’s transformed himself. He’s serious about football…He’s serious about how he wants to be perceived by everybody also.” Assistant defensive line coach Cam Davis added to the staff’s enthusiasm about Alim McNeill on episode 49 of the “Twentyman in the Huddle” podcast:
(McNeill) is a very good athlete… so when you have a very good athlete that has a body that’s in top top top condition… he’s going to be able to go out and do things at a high level. I’m really excited to see what (McNeill) can do… it’s a credit to him… I would get about a weekly text message from him and it would just be a scale and I could see the weight going down and going down and then I’d get a video where he’s dunking… I am super excited to see what (he) can do this season.
A Look at Lions’ Defensive Prospects
Other players who Glenn expects to excel include Josh Paschal, Jerry Jacobs, and Brodric Martin. Paschal, who missed out on a large part of the last season, is expected to significantly step up his game. Glenn said, “We’re expecting that player to be the player that we drafted in the second round and actually end up improving… so absolutely I feel like this player is going to be a good player for us.”
He also had high praise for Jerry Jacobs, saying, “Why is he still here? Because he’s a damn good player.” As for Brodric Martin, Glenn noted his size and speed potential, indicating the Parcells model he adheres to in his coaching philosophy.
I come from the Bill Parcells model, and this is a size and speed league. So, with a man of that size and ability to play big, play long, be able to take two… It’s hard to find guys with that size. You know if you look at him and he has a little brace on him, it kind of reminds you Linval Joseph to be honest with you, and if he can be that, that’s damn good man.
His optimism resonates with every player he spoke about and every strategy he has planned for the upcoming season. And with the Kansas City Chiefs as a model of success to draw inspiration from, Glenn seems more than prepared to guide the Lions’ defense into a new, transformative era.
Projecting the 2023 Lions’ Defense
Projecting the Lions’ defense for the upcoming 2023 season, Aaron Glenn emphasized the value of mental toughness, unity, and resilience. He believes the energy and camaraderie that are building during the OTAs will translate into the regular season, fostering a more cohesive and dynamic unit.
As per Glenn’s vision, Gardner-Johnson is expected to serve as the heart of the secondary. Tracy Walker’s return will undoubtedly bolster the defense’s core. Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill’s development into dominant forces off the edge and in the interior line, respectively, will be critical to Detroit’s defensive aspirations.
Overall, the vibe surrounding the Detroit Lions is one of optimism and excitement, a sentiment that Aaron Glenn and the rest of the team carry into every training session. Glenn’s fiery energy, mixed with the team’s hard work, talent, and camaraderie, has generated a palpable buzz around the Lions’ defense heading into the 2023 season. And as OTAs proceed, every drill, every play, and every moment of team bonding brings Detroit one step closer to Glenn’s vision of a formidable defensive unit.
While it’s too early to make any definitive predictions, the current trajectory suggests that the Lions could indeed be heading towards a breakthrough year in 2023. Aaron Glenn’s enthusiastic leadership has the Detroit Lions looking like an entirely different squad heading into the 2023 season.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Detroit Free Press