Added length and athleticism on defense gives Gunther Cunningham more options

Posted May 1, 2013

Players added through the draft and free agency bring the Lions versatility and size they've been looking for up front on defense

The Detroit Lions wanted to get bigger, faster and longer along their defensive line this offseason.

It started with Jason Jones (6-5, 276) on the first day of free agency, continuing into last week’s draft with the selections of defensive ends Ziggy Ansah (6-5, 271) and Devin Taylor (6-7, 266).

Jason JonesDE Jason Jones

"We talked about that with our coaching staff and spoke at length with some of our guys about those guys being able to make more plays," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "Actually, I think (defensive coordinator) Gun (Cunningham) did a study on that, on sacks and arm length and height.

"So, it was something that we were kind of focused on. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have taken a guy who wasn’t 6-7, but we like what those guys bring to the table."

What they bring to the table is more versatility than the Lions have been afforded upfront the past few seasons.

Jones can play both outside and inside, which allows Cunningham to move him to any position on the defensive line in any package. That allows for some freedom of movement with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, too.

Ansah and Taylor both have track backgrounds and terrific speed and athleticism for their size.

Ansah ran a 10.91 in the 100-meter dash and 21.89 seconds in the 200 meters for the BYU track team.

As a senior in high school, Taylor was the 4A South Carolina state champion in the triple jump with a leap of 48 feet 3 inches.

Both players were so versatile in college, there were times they were asked to drop into coverage and play in space.

That ability -- if it translates to the pro game -- gives Cunningham a lot of options in the way he can attack teams.

The Lions could theoretically have Ansah, Jones, Taylor, Suh and Fairley on the field together in five-man fronts in certain situations. Quarterbacks would have to wonder where the pressure would be coming from.

It's also a lot of size and length for quarterbacks to get footballs through to receivers.

"I mean, we’re not starting off our pass rush drills with getting our hands up," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "I mean, you’re not going to sack the quarterback very much if the first thing you’re going to do is think about knocking passes down.

"But it is a byproduct of it. It’s also a byproduct of when you’re engaged in a block that you can reach over and still make a tackle. You can still affect the play."

Expect Cunningham to be very creative -- and more aggressive -- in the way he approaches his scheme this year, with the versatility he now has upfront and the upgrade at safety with the addition of Glover Quin.