Allen Park – Often serving as one of the team’s main mouthpieces this season, veteran defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois has a positive outlook for the 2019 Detroit Lions.

As a free agent, Jean Francois was noncommittal about his own future, but said those who stay with Matt Patricia’s program could be part of something special.

“People who are going to be in the long term, understanding the system and understanding what he wants,” Jean Francois said, “I believe this will be a better team next year. I think it will be a lot easier for Matty P.”

In year one, Jean Francois was part of an emerging unit, which held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry after the acquisition of fellow tackle Damon Harrison, ranking fifth in the league during that span.

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Jean Francois could return to Detroit for an 11th NFL season after a 2.0-sack, 30.0-tackle season, playing all 16 games for the Lions.

He said the familiarity with his fellow defensive players led to a strong stretch run for the unit, culminating in Detroit’s first shutout since 1996 on Sunday in Green Bay.

“You saw that with us, we got better as time went on because we got close with one another, we got cool with one another,” Jean Francois said. “We understood what each other was looking at and why we were doing certain things. As long as that keeps going with these guys in this locker room, the team will only get better.”

One of the brightest spots of the defense was end Romeo Okwara, who had 7.5 sacks after entering the season with 1.0 in his career.

Okwara was picked up on waivers from the New York Giants leading up to Week 1 and is a restricted free agent this season, sounding like a man planning to be back in Detroit.

“We didn’t win enough games and we’ve got to do a better job next year to win,” he said. “We just got to improve on whatever we done this year and then build on everything and correct the mistakes we made and just improve. That’s the whole defense.”

Off to Orlando

The next Lions player scheduled to play football is Darius Slay, as the cornerback will take part in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27 in Orlando, Fla.

What’s his immediate plans to gear up for the exhibition?

“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Slay said Monday, one day before his 28th birthday. “I’m going to go play the game and just chill out. I’ll be chilling. I don’t got a lot going on.”

Slay had three interceptions and his first career touchdown in his second Pro Bowl season.

Slay said he’s disappointed in the results of the 6-10 season, but said he always has fun competing, especially in front of the improved Lions defensive front down the stretch of the season.

“I’m just looking forward to 2019,” he said. “I can’t do nothing about the past now.

“Everybody’s (desired) outcome is to come out with a W, but sometimes that don’t happen. At the end of the day, I just want to have fun and play the game injury-free.”

Defensive back Quandre Diggs, who had an interception on Detroit’s first and last defensive plays of the season, is a Pro Bowl alternate.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.