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Mayhew believes defense doesn't need overhaul

The Sports Xchange
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The Lions' defense gradually collapsed over the last eight games of the season. They gave up 45 points in each of the last two games - to the Packers and Saints. They gave up an average of 31 points over the last eight games, including the playoffs.

Yet, after the dust settled and emotions were allowed to simmer, general manager Martin Mayhew came away feeling better about his defense than most.

"I like our defense," he said. "We didn't finish the season the way we would have liked, but our defense did a lot of good things this year."

He ticked off the accomplishments:

--Seven defensive touchdowns, the most since 1937.

--Forty-one sacks.

--Twenty-one interceptions.

--Thirteen fumble recoveries.

"We made a ton of plays," he said. "Obviously, we didn't finish off well, but I think injuries were a factor in that," Mayhew said. "By no means do I think we need an overhaul on defense. We have a lot of good defensive players and a good defensive coaching staff. We need to healthy-up a little bit."

Specifically, Mayhew tied the decline of the defense to safety Louis Delmas' knee injury on Thanksgiving Day. He called Delmas a "vacuum cleaner," because he cleans up so many mistakes.

But Delmas has battled through injuries the last two seasons. Mayhew was asked if he was worried about Delmas' ability to stay on the field moving forward.

"You worry about everybody's durability, but no, he's a young guy and he's not getting shoulder or neck injuries," Mayhew said. "He had a groin in 2010 and a knee injury this year. He's a good player and he makes a difference."

Still, Mayhew knows he has some work to do on the defensive side. It will be vital to re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Cornerback Eric Wright is also unrestricted. The Lions have no cornerback signed beyond the 2012 season.

"Interestingly, if you look at our team; we have eight starters (under contract) on defense and 10 on offense," Mayhew said. "But the positions where we have free agents are the most critical positions on our football team - pass rusher, mike (middle) linebacker, cornerback -- those are hard to find."

Unlike the past few years, the Lions don't have a top five draft pick and it looks doubtful, barring a trade to move up, they will be able to fill any of those holes with the 23rd overall pick.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr., has the Lions taking North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins in his latest mock draft. NFL Network's Mike Mayock offered two choices for the Lions at No. 23.

"What they really need is to get better on defense and maybe look at corners and linebackers," he said.

At cornerback, he said the top prospects - LSU's Morris Claiborne and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick - will be gone by No. 23, but Jenkins from North Alabama could be there.

"He's one of the ultimate boom or bust guys in this draft," Mayock said. "He has great ability but he's slid a little because of off the field stuff. But he's a logical guy."

As for an outside linebacker, he suggested Ronnell Lewis out of Oklahoma.

"He's an intriguing prospect," Mayock said. "You see his size (6-2, 244) and he's a tweener. But you can't deny his movement skills and ability to rush the passer. In the NFL, you will make a living and maybe be a high draft pick if you have those skills. He does have some durability issues, but he would be a logical guy there."

If the Lions don't re-sign Tulloch, they would probably move DeAndre Levy back to the middle, thus creating an opening on the outside. That is clearly not the best-case scenario for Mayhew.

"Stephen Tulloch did a great job for us," Mayhew said. "He was the quarterback of our defense. He understands our defense and we feel very confident with him in there. He's a good leader, he's good in the locker room and we would really like to have him back."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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