The Detroit Lions defense failed to take the next step this past season, ranking 23rd overall after finishing 21st in 2010. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who earned Pro Bowl, All-Pro and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that year also saw his production drop dramatically, with the former No. 2 overall pick posting just 36 tackles and four sacks in 14 games.
"What we've done this spring, I cut up all the plays â every snap (Suh) had (in 2011) â and I showed him," Cunningham said Sunday while at the Michigan International Speedway. "I said, 'Now you tell me what happens during a game.' In college, you have 85 to 90 plays, but in the NFL you have 60 to 65, so you can't relax on a play here and there and then start looking for the plays, looking for the shots â hitting the quarterback for a sack. He finally realized that when I showed him the tape."
Cunningham also lamented the number of injuries the team had in the secondary a season ago and how continuity and a greater understanding the system will help the unit.
"We're doing a lot of different things. We're moving the whole defense â we're taking the next step," Cunningham said. "People say, 'Why didn't you do that before?' Well, when you have a lack of experience and injuries, you can't. The secondary was the key; we were coaching new guys every morning, trying to get ready for a game because we were missing starters. So you can't do scheme-wise what you would like to do.
"But now, we're like a different unit, and I saw that during the rookie camp. I told the coaches, 'Either I'm yelling less or you're coaching better.' I'm not yelling because they understand the system, they've been together for three years, and a lot of the players have, too. We don't have a lot of new guys. We're a different team, and you'll be surprised."