Detroit Lions have their own uses of 'speed' and 'space' — in Aaron Glenn's new defense

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Speed and space.

Those buzz words are sure to make every Michigan fan groan, and last week, new Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn co-opted them as his own in explaining and why Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers will play as stand-up outside linebackers this fall.

"I think this game is actually transitioning to having more speed on the field," Glenn said. "When you look at those two guys, I think with their skill set, giving those guys a chance to play on the edge, I think it helps those guys. The thing I think that’s underestimated about both those guys, their ability to be able to play in space. I think they have the ability to be able to do that."

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II throws the ball under pressure from Detroit Lions' Romeo Okwara during the first half at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II throws the ball under pressure from Detroit Lions' Romeo Okwara during the first half at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.

Okwara and Flowers are slated to be starting outside linebackers in the Lions' 3-4 defense this fall, though both likely will play as more traditional defensive ends in sub packages when the Lions revert to an even-man front.

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Both Okwara and Flowers took part in linebacker position drills at Organized Team Activities last week, and while their new look took some getting used to, Glenn said he's excited about what their versatility and the positional flexibility of others means for his defense.

"I'm excited for the different schemes that I can be able to create with the guys that we have," Glenn said. "We have size, we have speed, we have length. So you could use that in a number of different directions. We can be in base and get to a personnel package that you guys will see at some point."

Along with Okwara and Flowers, who have played as hand-down defensive ends for most of their NFL careers, Glenn mentioned Jamie Collins' ability to play most spots in the front seven.

In nickel packages, Glenn said he envisions using a five-down front at times, with Collins as one edge rusher. Veteran Michael Brockers — who is taking part in OTAs this week after staying home to tend to family business last week — and rookie second-round pick Levi Onwuzerike are defensive ends who will play as inside rushers in sub packages in the Lions' new defense, and third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu has safety flexibility, though he spent last week's open practice working at cornerback.

"That’s one of my scheme philosophies anyway," Glenn said. "You want to have a functional scheme, but you got to have versatile players and we’ve created that, even within the back end. We’re big in the back end with Iffy that’s coming in. There’s a number of things that we can do with that player also. So I’m excited about who we got, I’m excited about who we drafted, I’m excited about the go-for that we have right now."

If they prove to not be liabilities in the passing game, Flowers and Okwara could benefit from playing off the ball.

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Glenn touted the Lions' size upfront, saying linemen such as Brockers, John Penisini and Alim McNeill have the ability to "eat up blockers," which should provide Flowers and Okwara and the Lions' more traditional linebackers with enough space to take advantage of their speed and athletic ability.

"That’s what we’re working with that right now," he said. "The thing we’re going to make sure we take advantage of, as always, is their ability to rush the passer."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How Detroit Lions DC Aaron Glenn's defense uses speed and space