Allen Park — Football is painfully full of cliches, and one of the common variants you’ll hear from coaches is an emphasis on building around players’ talent, not scheme.
That is to say, coaches will frequently say they prioritize building systems around what their players do best, as opposed to trying to slot a square peg of a skill set into a scheme’s round hole.
Of course saying it is one thing and doing it is another, but Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is doing his best to take it a step further.
As part of his assessment of the roster he largely inherited, he’s making an earnest effort to listen to what his players feel like they do best and incorporate that into his game planning.
So much so that Glenn is willing to adjust his in-game play-calling based on player input.
Safety Tracy Walker has never seen anything like it. Glenn is Walker’s third defensive coordinator in four seasons since being drafted by the Lions in 2018, but not even as far back as high school has Walker experienced a coach so willing to listen to his input.
“I’ve had D-coordinators that are on the field and that are not as communicative, that don’t communicate, as well,” Walker said. “I just love that he’s more able to listen. He’s more direct. He’s willing to work with us as players. He’s willing to understand what we see out there, because we’re out there playing and he’s willing to listen.”
Like the majority of Detroit’s coaching staff, Glenn accrued extensive experience as an NFL player before transitioning into coaching. But it’s that playing experience that allows him to better listen to and understand what his players are seeing and feeling.
It’s also why he insists on spending game days on the sideline, as opposed to getting the big-picture view from the coaching suite.
“There’s something about it,” Glenn said. “I like being around the players. And that’s just me, everybody has a different philosophy, but I want to look them in the eye, I want to feel their emotion, I want them to feel my emotion, my passion for the game. It’s just something about being around them that just gets me excited.
“Hell, it helps me call a better game, because when I can reach them and touch them and talk to them and ask them what they like, and they can respond to me at that point, it help me be able to put them in a position to make plays.”
That came to fruition in the opener when Walker pulled the coordinator aside and told him he felt he had an opportunity to successful blitz the quarterback. So Glenn went ahead and dialed up a safety blitz, providing Walker an opportunity to take advantage of what he was seeing.
“He said, ‘Man, coach, I’m ready to pressure,'” Glenn said. “‘OK, I’m (going to) pressure you then.’ And there you go, he makes a sack. We put him in a position to go make a play. That communication, it’s vital to me as a play caller to know exactly how your players are operating or how they’re feeling at that time.”
Like anything else the Lions have tried during their decades of futility, the success of Glenn’s style will require a wait-and-see approach. But it’s difficult to envision players ever tuning him out if they are given continued ownership in the process.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and play for AG regardless, simply because that’s just one little aspect of what he brings,” Walker said.
“His leadership, the way he listens, the way he observes, and the way he coaches, I feel like I’m going to go out there and do what I’ve got to do regardless. Whether it’s a blitz, whether it’s me dropping back (to cover deep), whatever it is.”