Coming off two long fourth quarter drives by the Titans the week before that cost them their home opener, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers kept Detroit's defense in the dumps Sunday, shredding the Lions for 31 first-half points.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been tasked with replacing the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Stephen Tulloch over the last couple of years, and having to Band-Aid the unit from key injuries. One was game-changing linebacker DeAndre Levy, who played just 17 snaps all of 2015 after signing a $20 million extension. Austin, who's had nine head coaching interviews the past two off-seasons, had to be welcoming Levy back with open arms. Then he suffered a quad injury in the Titans game, sat out versus the Packers, and his status will be one to watch this week.
Then there's Ziggy Ansah, the fifth overall pick from 2013 who's only in his sixth year of even playing football. His 14.5 sacks last season gave him 30 in 46 career games and made him the new centerpiece of the defense. But the Ghana native sustained a high ankle sprain in that same game against the Titans and is not expected to be ready for Sunday's noon date on the lakefront.
Who could possibly pick up some of that pass rush slack? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kerry Hyder.
The undrafted free agent spent 2014 on the Jets' practice squad, then moved to the Lions last year. He almost seemed destined to spend another year on The Squad before he finished the preseason strong. The door opened, and the 6-foot-2, 270-pound end has four sacks so far. Tackle Haloti Ngata, who is 32 years old, struggled with injuries after coming over to help replace Suh, but finished strong, and has started well. Second-round pick A'Shaun Robinson rotates in after the Alabama product was passed over by the Bears.
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Levy's injury left the Lions with only four linebackers at Lambeau after one promotion from the practice squad. Speedy, physical Tahir Whitehead took over for the now-departed Tulloch in the middle and earned his way into the starting lineup the last couple of years. Austin has given the other starting spot to Kyle Van Noy in a last-ditch attempt to prove spending a second-round pick on him in 2014 wasn't a mistake.
The secondary includes a stud corner and safety. Darius Slay (2013 second round) has turned into their shutdown guy and signed a four-year, $48 million extension in July. Nevin Lawson is just 5-9 but plays physical and fast opposite Slay - and was called for a 66-yard (!) pass interference penalty Sunday. Free safety Glover Quin's interception has the defense's lone takeaway this season and is one of the game's best. The team invested a fourth-round pick on heavy-hitting Miles Kinnebrew, and injury-prone Rafael Bush in free agency. But former Illini Tavon Wilson was signed away from the Patriots and held down the strong side before departing Sunday's loss with a neck injury.
The Lions' coverage teams are top ten in both punts and kickoffs. The loss of Ameer Abdullah to his foot injury will affect the return game firepower, with backup wideout Andre Roberts filling in. Kicker Matt Prater is 5-for-6 on field goals thus far after being fifth in accuracy last year, including a 59-yarder versus the Bears at Soldier Field in last year's season finale.
The earrings were gleaming from Jimmy Butler’s ears, as he was his usual-disarming self with a playful smile and wink during his question-and-answer session with the Chicago media.
At a point, he took a deep breath as he looked around the Advocate Center with some of his new teammates walking around, some of whom had to carry nameplates because they weren’t recognizable faces in this new setting.
And because new faces are in town, it means two things: some faces left town and for Butler’s sake, the new ones will only know him as “Jimmy Butler, All-Star”, not the guy who was a late first-round pick, not the player who couldn’t get off the bench.
Butler didn’t bring up his comfort level, but when asked, he didn’t deny things appear to be a bit easier this time around.
“Does it make me feel more comfortable? I mean, to an extent, yeah, because then you can never say how you may have think that I’ve changed,” Butler said.
Butler’s ascension rubbed some the wrong way last season, and it’s been spoken about ad nauseam, whether it was true or not. But the moment of honesty wasn’t so much a shot at Derrick Rose or Joakim Noah, who departed for the Knicks in various forms; however it was an admission to his level of security, one that perhaps can lead to a more peaceful existence with all the core pieces.
The one way he’s always lead and will always speak to, is by example and work ethic. It’s one that turned him into an All-Star and Olympian.
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“I think everybody that’s on this roster now just knows how hard that I’ve worked to get to this spot that I’m at,” Butler said. “They’ve seen it. They’ve witnessed it. All they’ve been around for me is this point of my career. I don’t know if it sounds bad. But I think that all these guys look at, ‘If Jimmy works like that and if I work like that, I’ll be in the same position that he’s in.’ I’ll be more than happy to let you have that position because I think hard work can get you anywhere that you want to get to.”
So with that, Butler volunteered himself to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, to be the sacrificial lamb of wrath if need be. Easy to say if he doesn’t actually believe Hoiberg is capable of going from nice guy to madman at a moment’s notice but Butler laid it out for the record.
“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example. I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.’,” Butler said. “Because if Doug or Tony or whoever it may be is watching coach talk to me like that, it’s going to be like, ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that, I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ That’s what I try to remind him every day. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else. I want that. I need that.”
The additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo add championship receipts to a locker room that needs it, considering the Bulls want to play their young pieces. Wade and Rondo, the Bulls privately believe, will help Butler deal with everything that comes with a new role of leadership — and by proxy, Butler’s relationship and expectations of Hoiberg.
“He was put in a position last year he wasn't familiar with and I think we'll see growth from it,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “The great thing about Jimmy is you know he comes in each and every day and gives 100 percent. He gets better every year and I think we'll continue to see that growth in his game and him as a person. I think that experience with USA basketball was real positive for him.”
Whether the trio lives up to the “Three Alphas” nickname remains to be seen, but after having a locker room with too many low-pitched voices, perhaps the change in pace — any change in pace — will be a welcome one for Butler.
“The Alpha thing, I think we’ll be just fine. Everybody is going to have something to say,” he said. “As long as everybody is listening and is willing to take some criticism if you’re doing something wrong, just like if you’re doing something right I’m going to tell you, there’s good and bad in everything you do. At the end of the day, as long as we win games, it won’t matter.”