Answering the reader’s mailbag questions after Erik Schlitt’s Establishing the 53 series of articles at Lions Wire.
After the conclusion of my “Establishing the 53” series of articles, I posed a question to the #OnePride fan base on Twitter asking for any mailbag questions surrounding my conclusions.
I answered the three most asked questions in Part 1 of the Mailbag, but there are still plenty of great questions to answer. So let’s get started.
Note: questions may have been edited for clarity
How are the Lions going to get pressure on the QB using a 3-3-5 alignment? — @joseph_xuereb
Last season the Lions were one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the league. As Jeff Risdon pointed out in his review of the first quarter of last season, the Lions found early success only rushing three linemen, but that turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing, as the team still had confidence rushing three later in the season even when it stopped working.
While the Lions did go a bit heavier in their three rusher alignments last season, for the majority of snaps they did rush four, with the extra pass rusher being JACK linebacker Devon Kennard.
One of the advantages of using a 3-3-5 set is you can disguise where the fourth rusher is coming from, but last year it was obvious to offenses that it would almost always be Kennard because he lacked the range to drop into coverage, and they were prepared for him.
This lack of range ultimately led to Kennard’s release and was likely a major reason why the Lions targeted Jamie Collins to replace him in the starting lineup.
Collins’ range will pair nicely with skill sets of Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones and it appears the Lions may be looking to expand Jarrad Davis’ role. The addition of Collins will give the coaches options on where to bring pressure from, and in turn, should disguise the Lions’ defensive intentions.
This should also afford the Lions the opportunity to incorporate more blitzes into their game plans, allowing them to bring a 4th and sometimes 5th rusher from unique angles.
They still have to execute on the field, but the flexibility in their linebacker group should give them more options than they have previously had.
Jahlani Tavai, I believe, will be our consistent mike backer. I think they like him as the “voice” of the defense. Do you believe Tavai can play the mike position consistently? — @michaelman1212
As I eluded to in the previous question, I believe the Lions will be deploying their linebackers in several different spots, rotating players through positions, in order to confuse offenses. And while that means different players will line up at the MIKE, I agree Tavai could take on the traditional MIKE responsibilities.
One of the main jobs of the MIKE is to wear the “green dot” helmet and relay in the defensive play calls. During Davis’ first three seasons in the league that was his responsibility, but last year the Lions expanded that job to other players including Tavai.
The Lions typically allow their day two draft picks to slowly acclimate to the league during their rookie season — Tavai was a second-round pick in 2019 — and by year two they take on a much larger role. With Davis in a contract year, expect to see Tavai wear the green dot helmet quite a bit in 2020.
With both Jamie Collins and Christian Jones on the roster, could you see the Lions running a SAM LB more often in the scheme in order to get them both on the field? — @paullymac7
Typically the Lions only deploy a traditional SAM linebacker when they use four down linemen, which only happens against run-heavy offenses like the Minnesota Vikings.
That being said, the JACK linebacker spot looks primed to be adjusted and it’s possible that role will show more SAM-like qualities — especially if the Lions plan to disguise intentions.
As far as getting both Collins and Jones on the field at a time, I think there is plenty of opportunities to do so. Both players can play at the WILL, JACK, and SAM, and with the rotation levels the Lions use — last year four Lions’ linebackers saw over 52-percent of snaps — there is room for Collins, Jones, Tavai, and Davis to all get starter-level reps.
Reggie Ragland going to practice squad? — @CraigFe60141609
Leaving Ragland out of my projections got a big reaction on social media, but I stand by my assessment of him being an excellent scheme fit but only providing minimal value on special teams — something he will need to get better at quickly if he wants to win the fifth linebacker role.
As far as Craig’s question, under the 2019 practice squad rules, Ragland, who has three years accrued experience, would not have been eligible for the practice squad, but under the new CBA, he is now eligible. This season the practice squad will include 12 players, of which two can have any level of NFL experience — which makes Ragland eligible.
Now Ragland may not want to take a practice squad role but if he comes up empty on the free-agent market, it may be in his best interest to return to Detroit as a potential “practice squad elevation” player due to his fit in the defense. The Lions could also entice him by offering him a higher salary to stick around on the practice squad in an emergency role.
Does Miles Killebrew’s contract make him more of a lock than we may otherwise think? It appears he signed a deal that qualifies under the new CBA for the “mid-level” veteran salary benefit. So he only counts $1.047M against the cap, but $1M is guaranteed. Seems safe to me. — @swarheit
To push Scott’s point further, Killebrew not only has $1 million in guaranteed salary but he also got $137,500 in a signing bonus. That means his cap hit is indeed $1.047 million in 2020 but it would increase to $1.375 million in dead cap if they release him — meaning it would actually cost the Lions $90,000 more to cut him than keep him.
So why did I have Killebrew on the outside of my 53-man projection?
Killebrew was one of the final few decisions I made when rounding out my projection, with it coming down to him or fellow special teams demon Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Both are dynamic pieces on special teams but are only emergency level defenders and I’m not sure the Lions will be able to keep multiple special teams only players.
Additionally, while his contract is very team-friendly, the additional $90,000 — or $1.375 million for that matter — is just drop in the bucket overall and I don’t believe it will deter the Lions from moving on if they need roster space.
There’s a real chance he finds his way onto the roster for a fifth season but he will likely have to make his money in the pre-season.