After struggles, Lions GM Brad Holmes planning to prioritize defense this offseason

Detroit News

Allen Park — Typically, when Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes has been asked to identify a weakness or an area most in need to be addressed during the offseason, he plays his response close to the vest.

There’s value in not being direct with these answers. First, it doesn’t tip your hand heading into free agency and the draft about what you’re seeking. Second, it avoids publicly calling out players who might remain part of the roster. Conversations about needing to improve in specific areas are always better handled behind closed doors.

But when Holmes was asked about what position group is most in need on an upgrade this offseason during his Tuesday, season-ending press conference, the GM couldn’t shy away from what the statistics already had made clear.

“It’s a fair question,” Holmes said. “There’s a lot of different areas that we can go, especially with the resources that we’ll have available to us. Obviously, our defense was ranked 32nd, so I mean it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to have to utilize some resources to try and improve that defense.”

Like all NFL teams, the Lions will enter the offseason with a list of areas to address. That includes some maintenance to keep their top-five offense humming in 2023, but, yes, the defense is clearly in need of the heavier lifting.

To be fair, even that unit made major strides after a horrific start. While some turnover woes factored into the equation, the Lions were allowing more than 32 points per game during the team’s 1-6 start. But starting with the team’s Week 9 win over Green Bay, through the season-ending victory over that same NFC North rival, Detroit trimmed that figure by 25%, allowing 24 points per game the remaining 10 games.

Yet, the Lions continued to surrender plenty of yardage, even after they began keeping points down. Through those final 10 games, opponents averaged 372.1 yards per game, which still would have been bottom-five across a full season.

Admittedly, the Lions leaned heavily on a young, inexperienced group on that side of the ball. And multiple times during the season, the coaching staff noted starting early in the year the team was playing just two returning starters, linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive tackle Alim McNeill.

Meanwhile, rookies Aidan Hutchinson, Kerby Joseph and Malcolm Rodriguez combined to play nearly 2,500 defensive snaps. Along with other first-year contributors Josh Paschal and James Houston, who carved out roles down the stretch, Holmes is optimistic the experience they gained will lead to the continued improvement the unit saw in the second half.

But, as the GM acknowledges, more help is needed, whether that’s free agents or another batch of rookies via the draft. The Lions hold two picks in each of the first two rounds, and if they don’t make any trades to alter that total, no one would be surprised if three of them went toward upgrading the defense.

That strategy would mark the third straight year the Lions used three of their first four picks on defensive players. In 2021, Holmes drafted defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike and McNeill, followed by defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu, after taking Penei Sewell with the No. 7 overall pick. And last year, Hutchinson, Pachal and Joseph sandwiched the team’s move up the board to snag wide receiver Jameson Williams.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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