Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 17, 2013

Dennis Chase: Lions must still address defense

BY DENNIS CHASE
dchase@record-eagle.com

— That was an entertaining week for Detroit Lions fans.

Martin Mayhew, the Lions GM, is not one to tip his hand so last week’s flurry of activity came as somewhat of a surprise for a team up against the salary cap. The front office got creative — maybe crazy — by restructuring and backloading contracts so it could be players in the free agent market.

The haul included multi-dimensional back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin and defensive lineman Jason Jones. Detroit also signed a few of its own free agents, namely cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas.

Offsetting the optimism from those signings, the Lions took a couple hits with defensive end Cliff Avril leaving for Seattle and left tackle Jeff Backus retiring.

So now what? Are the Lions any better?

On paper, Detroit looks stronger in the secondary, as long as Delmas can stay healthy. The Lions look more explosive offensively, too, with Bush providing the speed to be a real double-threat out of the backfield.

But the Lions now lack a pass rusher and must replace three starters on the offensive line. And, heaven forbid, if Calvin Johnson ever gets hurt. The Lions don’t have another receiver that can stretch the field like he can.

So I think we can start to see what direction the Lions might go in next month’s draft. There will still be a free agent signing or two before then — Jason Hanson, probably; Lawrence Jackson, possibly — but I don’t expect anything drastic unless the team can create more cap space.

That leads us to the draft. As it stands now, I would expect the Lions to focus on defense with the fifth overall pick. After all, scoring points is not the problem for the Lions, it’s stopping opponents from scoring. That’s the issue.

A couple names you see linked to the Lions in the mock drafts are BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Ansah is an athletic, raw prospect who impressed Lions coach Jim Schwartz at the Senior Bowl. Ansah has played only three years of football, started only one. He will be taken high based on potential, not past production.

Too big of a gamble with the No. 5 pick?

Mayhew has indicated he needs a player at that No. 5 slot who can come in and contribute immediately. Does that take Ansah out of the mix?

Milliner had an impressive Combine and is gaining steam. The Lions could use a corner opposite Houston, but is that a more pressing need than defensive end? And is that too high of a pick for a cornerback?

Now, it would be interesting if one of two left tackles, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, is still on the board at No. 5. Do you ignore your shortcomings on defense and move to solidify the offensive line?

My belief is you can improve the offensive line in the second round. I don’t think you can wait that long to address defensive end.

That could be the great debate for the next five weeks.