When Aaron Glenn first arrived in New Orleans, he inherited a secondary that was not very good and quickly got worse.
The Saints ranked last in the league against the pass in Glenn’s first season as defensive backs coach in 2016, then improved to a middle-of-the-pack pass defense in Year 2 and were among the best in the NFL this past season.
Now the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions, Glenn said he sees some similarities between those early secondaries he had in New Orleans and the group he is taking over in Detroit: Young, raw and ready to be molded.
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“I see athletes,” Glenn said Wednesday. “And when you have a group of athletes, you coach them, exactly tell them what they have to do and you get a chance to see a secondary that’s going to make plays for you. It kind of reminds me of my (second) year in New Orleans when I had a young secondary with Marshon Lattimore, Vonn Bell, Marcus Williams. All those young guys. You get to grow these guys as pups. I’m excited about that.”
Like the 2017 Saints, the Lions have a young, high-draft-pick cornerback in Jeff Okudah and two young safeties in Tracy Walker and Will Harris who could play key roles in the secondary going forward.
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Okudah, the No. 3 pick of last season’s draft — who followed in Lattimore’s footsteps at Ohio State — had a rough first season with the Lions but has all the traits to be a special player.
Walker played well in 2019, but slumped last season when the Lions moved him from his natural free safety spot to more of a hybrid role. Harris, a third-round pick in 2019, has been in an out of his lineup in his first two seasons.
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And second-year cornerback Amani Oruwariye joins Okudah, Harris and Walker in what could be a 26-and-under starting secondary.
Slot cornerback Justin Coleman and veteran corner Desmond Trufant also remain under contract for 2021 for now.
“I get a chance to mold those guys to exactly how I want those guys to play,” said Glenn, who played 15 NFL seasons at cornerback with five different teams. “I know (secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant) is going to do a hell of a job in that situation. It’s my job to try to tie this thing together from the front to the back to make sure we’re all on the same page. So I’m excited about that secondary and I know those guys are going to do a good job for us.”
The Saints jumped from 32nd against the pass in Glenn’s first season in 2016 to 15th in 2017 for a number of reasons. They drafted Lattimore and Williams, a pending free agent, that season. They had a better, more well-rounded offense that kept their defense off the field. And the group made more plays under Glenn’s tutelage.
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Near the bottom of the league with nine interceptions in 2016, the Saints ranked third with 20 picks a year later.
The Lions tied for 30th in the league with seven interceptions last season, and got two picks from their young defensive backs (one each by Okudah and Oruwariye).
As a whole, Glenn echoed head coach Dan Campbell’s assessment of the Lions defense in 2020, when it gave up the most points and yards in franchise history.
“Dan said it that the players looked, I think, confused, I think with no confidence,” he said. “And the one thing that we have to do, we have to change that narrative of the players, of their thinking, so they can go out and play with confidence, and getting them to play fast. And what we’re going to do as a staff is make sure that happens.”
Glenn was on the wrong end of one of the most iconic plays in Lions history — when Barry Sanders topped 2,000 yards rushing with a 53-yard run in the final game of the 1997 season against the New York Jets.
Glenn tackled Sanders on the play, a few yards short of the goal line.
“Are you really going to bring that back up?” Glenn said Wednesday. “Here’s what I will tell you: Barry Sanders had maybe (20) yards in the first half. I think he needed, what, (131) to go for 2,000 or something like that. Man, you know this story. Why you asking me this?
“Anyway, he didn’t have a lot of yards in the first half and the thing is, I thought we were winning the game, and then he comes out the second half just on a tear. I remember the one play, he made a move on our corner, Otis Smith. Otis Smith tried to trip him and missed him, and I tried to chase him down. I don’t know if he scored or what, but when I chased him down, I looked up, there was his 2,000 yards. So I’m on tape for tackling Barry Sanders for his 2,000 yards. That’s what you wanted to hear, right?”
The Lions hired Jett Modkins as assistant special teams coach and DeOn’tae Pannell to their William Clay Ford Minority Coaching Assistantship position on Wednesday. Modkins is the son of former Lions running backs coach Curtis Modkins, now with the Denver Broncos.
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Aaron Glenn: ‘I get a chance to mold’ young Detroit Lions secondary