Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Lions secondary coach Tim Walton has been hired as the new Defensive Coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He beat out Dick Jauron and Mike Singletary to earn the position as Jeff Fisher’s top lieutenant.
Rams fans are aghast. The Lions have consistently fielded one of the least effective secondaries in the league under Walton’s tenure, ranking in the bottom ten in TD passes allowed, yards allowed and penalties over the last four years. Most fans’ exposure to the Lions defensive backfield is the nationally televised debacles against Green Bay, Houston, and Indianapolis. Those games featured coverage breakdowns, poor pursuit angles, and an embarrassing lack of ball awareness.
Those are indeed ominous signs, but Walton should not be the scapegoat for the issues. He is not above blame, but injuries and an inconsistent pass rush hampered the Lions. So did a decided lack of impact talent. The two best players, Louis Delmas and Chris Houston, have both fought injuries. Two players that were heavily (foolishly?) relied upon as third round picks, Amari Speivey and Bill Bentley, also have been hurt more than they have been on the field in their respective tenures.
Walton took over a completely bare cupboard when he came to Detroit. Not one player who started a game in the secondary in the winless 2008 season was with the team by the end of 2009, and none played in the NFL in 2012. The Lions pass defense has been decent enough the past two years despite a cavalcade of injuries and a progressive youth movement.
Now he takes over a Rams defense with impact talent at all three levels, including a playmaking CB tandem with Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. Chris Long is what Lions fans want Cliff Avril to be, while Robert Quinn is a speed rushing force still learning the ropes. James Laurinaitis is one of the best inside backers in the game. Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford are a solid interior duo. There is no depth at all, but Walton is used to that. I expect Walton will do a fine job working with Jeff Fisher, on who Jim Schwartz has basically modeled himself and his defense.
As for the impact in Detroit, I’m happy there will be some change on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not the dramatic impact that many have been longing for, but this is a chance for the reborn Martin Mayhew to realize that a different set of eyes should be a very good thing for this defense. Secondary assistant Marcus Robertson will be a candidate to take over Walton’s role, but it’s not a given he gets the gig. Nothing against Robertson, who is directly responsible for Jonte Green‘s rapid development last year, but I hope the Lions do bring in an outsider to take over.
Keep in mind that Walton was given the title of Third Down Package coach last year in order to increase his responsibility and keep him from jumping to the Rams at that point. The Lions finished 9th in the NFL in third down conversion defense in 2012, a pretty strong accomplishment for a 4-12 team. It’s not an insignificant role, and that means it will draw interest from some underemployed or unemployed coaches with good résumés. Dick Jauron is one of them. Former Bears assistant Gil Byrd is another, as is recently deposed Chargers assistant Ron Meeks. I would love for Schwartz to hire someone that is a little outside his comfort zone and is from a different coaching tree. It would be even better if Schwartz did so willingly and respectfully.