LIONS INSIDER

2017 training camp preview: Defensive end

Posted Jul 15, 2017

Tim Twentyman previews the defensive end position heading into training camp.

On roster: Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder Jr., Cornelius Washington, Armonty Bryant, Anthony Zettel, Brandon Copeland, Pat O’Connor, Alex Barrett, Jeremiah Valoaga

Key losses: Devin Taylor, Wallace Gilberry

Making cut: Ansah, Hyder, Washington

On bubble: Bryant, Zettel, Copeland, O’Connor, Barrett, Valoaga

Best competition: Who starts opposite Ansah?

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell joked this offseason that his defensive line rotation is comparable to the frequency of line changes in hockey. Caldwell was trying to make the point that the Lions run a lot of defensive linemen in and out of the game. In fact, the Lions had nine defensive linemen play at least 200 snaps last season, and 11 that played at least 100.

With how frequently the Lions rotate linemen, it probably doesn’t matter all that much who starts. However being the starter means that player has risen to the top in camp and there’s a certain level of expectations now placed on his shoulders.

Hyder started only two games last season, but lead the team with eight sacks. He has a motor that never quits, which is part of the reason why he was so successful a year ago.

Washington comes over from Chicago, and could find an immediate role as a starter on the outside with the ability to shift inside on third down and give the Lions some pass-rushing prowess from the interior.

Bryant showed terrific promise in the five games he played for the Lions outside of a suspension and being placed on IR late in the year with a knee injury.

Zettel carved out a role as a rotational player as a rookie. Players typically make their biggest jump forward in development heading into year two, so watch for Zettel to make an impression in training camp and throw his name into the mix.

2016 stats
PlayerGamesTacklesSacksFF
Ziggy Ansah 13 35 2.0 0
Kerry Hyder Jr. 16 36 8.0 0
Cornelius Washington# 15 20 2.0 0
Armonty Bryant 5 5 3.0 1
Anthony Zettel 13 13 1.0 0
Brandon Copeland 16 16 0.0 1
Pat O'Connor* 13 42 8.5 5
Alex Barrett* 14 53 7.5 0
Jeremiah Valoaga* 10 24 5.5 1
# with CHI     * college stats

Twentyman’s take: This is a position group that hinges on Ansah staying healthy and getting back to the level of production we saw from him in 2015, when he had 14.5 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl.

Ansah dealt with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 2 of last season and an assortment of other ailments that limited him most of the year. He finally started getting healthy at the end of the year and he had two sacks and five quarterback hits in the playoff loss in Seattle.

If Ansah can stay healthy, then everything else can fall into place.

Hyder was a great story last year going from practice squad in 2015 to leading the team in sacks. What does he have in store for his encore performance in 2017? If he’s going to win that starting spot opposite Ansah, he’ll have to show more consistency. He stormed onto the scene last year with five sacks in Detroit’s first five contests, but had just three the last 11 games and only one in the team’s last seven games.

Washington signed with the Lions in free agency because Teryl Austin’s 4-3 attacking scheme is a better fit for his skill set. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s truly the case.

Zettel is a player I’ll have my eye on early in training camp. He has the kind of size and athleticism that could really take off in year two. He’s also highly motivated to be a bigger factor than he was as a rookie.

“I know the scheme better. The game has slowed down for me. I’ve gotten a lot more athletic in the offseason,” Zettel said this offseason.

“I’m stronger. So, it’s just all coming together for me right now. I have a lot to improve on, though, and a lot of individual goals I want this year. I’m excited.”

Still, it all comes down to Ansah staying healthy and being his productive self. If that happens, the Lions have options on the other side and should be able to roster a nice rotation on the outside.

By the numbers:

26: Total number of sacks recorded by the Lions last season, which ranked tied for 30th

152: Total points allowed by the Lions defense the last eight games of the season. That total was the sixth lowest in the league and nearly 30 points fewer than the NFL average.

15: Sacks by Robert Porcher in 1999, which is the official recognized record for sacks in a season for the Lions (Al “Bubba” Baker had 23 in 1978 before sacks became an official stat). Will someone break Porcher’s record in 2017?

Quotable: “I take it personally,” Ansah said of Detroit's low sack total a season ago. “I feel like I didn’t do my job. That is what I’m paid to do.

“So, like I said, I’m really focused this year and excited for what we have coming up and it’s definitely going to be better than last year.”