Allen Park — The Detroit Lions’ offseason acquisition of defensive lineman Michael Brockers served multiple purposes.
First and foremost, the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder helps fill the franchise’s critical deficiency at generating interior pass-rush pressure. Collectively, Detroit’s interior defensive linemen ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season, while Brockers’ 30 quarterback pressures, as tallied by Pro Football Focus, would have easily been a team-best.
In fact, it’s not that far off from the 39 pressures Detroit’s defense tackles combined for in 2020.
But just as important for the Lions will be Brockers’ role as a leader and culture-setter for the franchise’s new regime, headed by general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell.
Brockers, who missed the team’s first batch of OTA practices to tend to family business back in California, didn’t miss a beat when he joined the team for the second set of practices this week.
“Look, there are a number of reasons of why we made the trade that we did for this guy,” Campbell said. “Aside from the fact that he’s a hell of a player, he just does things right. He handles his business, he’s a true pro. I mean, he walked right in the door and you could tell. He’s been honed in on the Zooms and his technique is like spot-on.
“And then you see the fundamental work, which is a little more full-speed,” Campbell continued. “… He’s a vet, he’s a pro that understands what it’s supposed to look like and he’s all business.”
The value of Brockers’ leadership took on added meaning after the Lions used two of their first three draft picks to fortify their defensive line, selecting Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill in the second and third rounds.
It’s not that the Lions are concerned about the football character of either prospect, because there’s been an emphasis by the new regime on bringing in intrinsically motivated players, but being in the same room as Brockers should naturally accelerate their development and help them make the early contributions the team expects.
Interestingly, in part because he has such a large personality on the practice field, Brockers doesn’t view himself as an active, vocal leader. Instead, he prefers to lead by example, while simultaneously being eager to offer advice to any young player seeking it.
“I try to be passive because I don’t want to rub anybody the wrong way,” he said. “Some guys are into their own stuff, and I don’t want to be that guy who comes in and says, ‘Oh, you’re doing everything wrong.’ So I just try to give my little two cents, really, if there’s something I feel like I can give them and it’s something they’ll take, I’ll do it. But other than that, man, I’m just trying to find my way around. I don’t want to just claim that I’m a captain or anything like that. Wherever I can put my little two cents in, give a little knowledge here or there, I’ll do it. Other than that, I’m just chillin’.”
A former first-round pick who successfully navigated through high expectations, Brockers said the most important thing for Onwuzurike and McNeill is to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on themselves. And the best way to do that is by using this time during their first offseason to really focus on their play books and the coaching they’re receiving, so that they can play fast once the season starts.
“When you’re out there, you’re thrown into the fire, you’re in the NFL, coming from college and all that pressure’s on you, you really have to slow down,” Brockers said. “I think that was the big thing about me, man. A first-rounder coming in, you don’t want to be a bust, like, you’re thinking about that stuff. So you really have to slow it down, learn the game, take it one day at a time. I think that’s a big deal, to just take it one day at a time, not trying to overdo yourself, and just be a sponge.”
The Lions are coming off a season where they posted the worst defensive performance in franchise history, both in terms of yards and points allowed. Turning things around will start in the trenches, where Brockers and the two rookies can provide an immediate jolt.
“If you look at the guys that we drafted, those guys are big players,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “So the one concept that we want to make sure that we’re able to do is be able to eat up as many guys as we can up front. You look at Alim, you look at (John) Penisini, who was here last year. You talk about Nick Williams. You talk about Brockers. Those are big men, right? When you have big men like that, they give you a chance to eat up blockers, so that allows the guys in the second level, for our linebackers, to go make plays.”
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More than eating blocks, Glenn wants to ramp up Detroit’s overall aggressiveness. Dipping back to Onwuzurike’s draft-night media session, where the lineman, in more colorful language, talked about how much he enjoys dominating offensive linemen, Glenn said he wants to see that attitude throughout the defense.
“I mean that’s what we’ve got to be as a defense,” Glenn said. “We’re gonna be aggressive. We want (butt) kickers.”
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