Detroit Lions new 3-4 defense: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara moving to outside linebacker

Detroit Free Press

Two years after he signed a $90 million contract that made him one of the highest-paid defensive ends in football, Trey Flowers is changing positions to fit the Detroit Lions‘ new defensive scheme.

Defensive line coach Todd Wash confirmed Thursday that Flowers and Romeo Okwara will play outside linebacker in the Lions’ base defense this fall.

Both players can play as traditional hands-down defensive ends in sub packages, when teams often shift to a four-man front and bigger run-defending linemen typically head to the sideline.

“He’s got a great skill set for what we’re trying to do,” Wash said of Flowers. “Every one of the players that we have on our defensive roster have a skill set. It’s going to be our job obviously as coaches to put them in that position to be successful, and I think Trey has that skill set as a defensive end in base and also in sub.”

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The Lions are shifting full-time to a base 3-4 defense under new coach Dan Campbell and have revamped their front seven in recent months.

Flowers has played primarily as an edge-setting defensive end during his six-year career, and he’s spent the majority of his time in Detroit playing from a hand-down position on the right side of the defensive line.

He had seven sacks in 2019 and two in seven games last year, when he missed the second half of the season with a fractured forearm.

Okwara started most of last season at right end and recorded a team-high 10 sacks. He played as both an outside linebacker and defensive end in college at Notre Dame.

“With outside linebackers, we look for three different characteristics,” Wash said. “Obviously, you’ve got to be able to rush the passer. We’re looking for somebody that can set the edge. The rest of us will build a wall inside to help stop the run and knock them back. And then third is they need to be serviceable in coverage. That’s what we’re looking for when it comes to outside linebackers. Both of them are athletic to do what we ask them to do and I think you’re going to see both of them elevate their game.”

Though they are listed as defensive ends on the Lions’ roster, Charles Harris, Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara also have the skill sets to play outside linebacker in the Lions’ new scheme.

Rookie draft picks Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill will play as more traditional defensive linemen, with McNeill playing nose tackle and Onwuzurike playing as a base defensive end who moves inside in sub packages.

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“It was like Christmas on that draft day for me,” Wash said. “Excited about both of those men.”

Wash said he subscribes to the defensive philosophy of stopping the run first, but he hinted at a more blitz-heavy approach to defense.

Under former coach Matt Patricia, the Lions regularly ranked near the bottom of the league in blitz percentage.

“For us, we need to disrupt the quarterback one way or another, either with four, five, six, whatever it may be,” Wash said. “But for us to be able to help the defensive backs out, we got to be able to disrupt the quarterback. And it’s the same thing, the (defensive backs) help us out by having tight coverage, make them hold it a little bit longer and we can get to the quarterback, so it’s really rush and cover all works together.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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