This is a big year for defensive end
He is entering his third NFL season, selected by the Lions in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Statistically, Avril has done well in his first two seasons, accruing 5.0 sacks in 2008 and 5.5 in 2009. But even though those seasons look good on paper, Avril is looking for more this year.
“It’s the year to definitely make an impact,” he said. “I think this year is the make-or-break year. Either you’re going to be good or you’re just going to be that guy that couldn’t get over the edge.
“I think, for me, I’ve learned a lot – especially last year – as far as the nature of the game and, mentally, I’ve learned a lot.”
As a second-year player in 2009, Avril experienced a new position coach and defensive system with the arrival of Head Coach Jim Schwartz and his staff.
This year, Kris Kocurek is taking over defensive line coaching duties after serving as an assistant last season, bringing experience and youth to the position.
Avril likes Kocurek’s intensity and is relieved that he doesn’t have to learn another defense heading into his third year.
“I like the direction we’re going as far as what he wants from us,” said Avril. “Plus, he played football. He played in the league for a little bit, so he’s more of a players’ coach. He understands what we go through.”
Last season, Avril got off to a slow start after a hamstring injury kept him off of the field. He posted 2.5 sacks over three games before hitting a slump. It was over that five-game span Avril says he was “thinking too much.”
“I felt like I had to do certain things certain ways last year,” he said. “I think towards the end it was just more of, ‘Go play football. Go have fun, go enjoy yourself. Don’t let this stress you out.’ I think that is what helped me out towards the end.”
Avril closed out the final five games on a positive note, posting three sacks to finish the year with 5.5. He is hoping to carry that momentum into this offseason and then the regular season.
Vanden Bosch in particular has the potential to significantly impact Avril, both with his knowledge and his leadership.
“I ask questions here and there,” said Avril, adding with a laugh, “You don’t want to just go be a groupie to a Pro Bowler. We haven’t spoken too much, but I can definitely see he’s a wise guy and I can pick up some things from him.”
Vanden Bosch, who is entering his 10th NFL season, embraces the opportunity to guide young players. He will certainly get that chance in Detroit, where he is by far the eldest amongst defensive linemen.
The only other defensive linemen with more than five accrued seasons is Williams, a seventh-year veteran.
“The way my career path has gone, I didn’t really develop into a good player until my fifth year,” said Vanden Bosch.
“I battled through injuries and adversity. Through losing and the fact that I kept working, kept after it and did the things I believed were the right things to do – it’s helped me have a good career.”
His early impression of Avril is a positive one, having worked with him for a couple weeks in the team’s offseason conditioning program.
“I had seen Cliff on tape and I knew a lot about him coming out of college,” said Vanden Bosch. “Working with him already this first week and a half, I can see he’s got tremendous abilities. He’s really explosive and he’s a smooth athlete.
“In this system, the way we play in this defensive scheme, there’s no reason he shouldn’t have a bunch of success this year.”
Though this is Vanden Bosch’s first season as a Lion, he is no stranger to this defensive system due to all of his time in Tennessee. That will make him a go-to guy for players like Avril.
“He’ll know little tricks of the trade for this defense,” said Avril. “It’s like he’s not skipping a beat for himself and he’s definitely going to help us. He’s been playing in it longer than us, so it will definitely help.”
Avril himself is looking forward to developing some consistency with this system as well.
“Technique-wise it’s probably going to change a little bit,” he said. “But as far as for being in the same scheme, I think it will definitely make us better. I’ve had three different coaches the last three years, but I think this year will definitely be a difference and I’m going to definitely try to make an impact.”