Dan Campbell was nervous. He knew Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was a candidate for the Saints' head coaching job, and he knew it'd be a good fit. So when Glenn landed an interview with the Saints this offseason, Campbell was resigned to the fact one of the NFL's brightest young coaches was done in Detroit.
"When all this was going on and everything with New Orleans, I thought he was going to be gone," Campbell said Thursday during the Lions' first round of OTA's. "I was going to be happy as hell for him, I would. But the thought of losing him, I just had this feeling like I was going to be walking around without any pants on. Having A.G., there is a comfort level."
Campbell hasn't lost his pants. Not yet, anyway. The Saints hired their own defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, instead, and Glenn returned for another year with the Lions. And he has big plans for a defense that surged at the end of last season and just added six players in the draft, including second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson.
In the words of Campbell, "We want to play more on their side of the line of scrimmage. That’s the best way to describe it."
The Lions spent most of last season in a 3-4 base. Along with a lack of talent, that's part of the season they finished with the third fewest sacks in the NFL and ultimately allowed the second most points. At the end of the year, Glenn came to Campbell with some changes he wanted to make in 2022. Namely, more four-man fronts.
"He felt like this was what we needed to do and I agreed with him wholeheartedly," Campbell said. "I think this is the right thing for us, and that’s a ton of credit to him. It's just, we’re trying to do what we say we’re going to do."
Campbell said the Lions will still feature some three-man fronts this season, but they'll work primarily out of a 4-3 base. He and Glenn want their defense to attack. And they believe they have the players to do so.
"For us personnel wise, what was right and what is right is what we’re going to start moving to because I think it suits us well," said Campbell. "The ability for us to adapt as coaches and help our players be the best they can be is what we’re about. That’s what we said we were going to be about, because those guys win games. We don’t, it’s the players."
The Lions do have the makings of a deep and disruptive D-line. In addition to Hutchinson, who broke Michigan's single-season sack record last season, they drafted fellow defensive end Josh Paschal in the second round. And they bring back proven pass rushers in Charles Harris and a healthy Romeo Okwara, who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, and expect big second-year leaps out of Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeil.
"Now, we’re not just running through gaps and closing our eyes," Campbell said. "We're not like that. But we are much more, hit the blocks and play on their (side of the) line of scrimmage, which is a little bit different than what we were last year. And I do think this will serve our front well. I think this will help Alim, I think it’ll help Levi, it’ll help really all those guys up front."
At the center of it all is Glenn, whose second season with the Lions could well be his last. He's destined for bigger things on the sideline, viewed widely as the NFL's next Black head coach. He's sharp, energetic and commands the respect of his players. Look no further than Lions safety Tracy Walker, who re-signed with the team this offseason in large part to spend another year under Glenn -- which led to some uneasy moments when it looked like Glenn might be leaving.
And a huge sigh of relief when he returned. Campbell can relate.
"I really did (think he was gone)," Campbell said. "Look, I have a tremendous amount of trust and confidence in A.G., I just do. He is more than worthy of being a head coach, he’s more than qualified to be a head coach in this league. I’m happy to have him and we’re lucky to have him as our defensive coordinator. Yeah, I’m glad he’s back."