Jackson, Young and others will get chance to show worth in Avril's potential training camp absence

Posted Jul 22, 2012

The Lions and defensive end Cliff Avril couldn’t come to an agreement on a new long-term contract this week, meaning Avril will play this season under the $10.6 million franchise tag.

Shortly after Friday’s deadline, Avril told that he wasn’t expecting to report to training camp – at least the first day -- when it opens later this week. Exactly how much training camp Avril misses is still unknown.

While that’s certainly not an ideal situation for a Lions team hoping to hit the ground running for a second-straight playoff push, it will give them an opportunity to take a closer look at reserve defensive ends Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young, Everette Brown and Ronnell Lewis.

“It’s a huge opportunity just with the reps,” Jackson said earlier this offseason when Avril wasn’t participating in the offseason program. “There’s a higher level of competition going with the first group. I think allowing the coaches to see the player in that role vs. a starter is big. It’s one of those things where you might not be able to show everything you can do against the second group or it might get devalued.

“Anytime you have an opportunity to run with the first group at practice it’s a huge opportunity and the more time they can see you out there with that first group the more they can feel comfortable with this guy or that guy.”

Jackson has 10.5 sacks in 22 games over the last two seasons with the Lions, and, like Avril, will be playing out the last year of his current contract. He’s playing for his next contract this season.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew singled out Young as a player who’s impressed him this offseason. The Lions are expecting Young to take a giant leap forward in his development after drafting him in the seventh round in 2012. More reps in training camp could help.

“Since Willie has been drafted here he’s shown flashes and everybody’s had high expectations for him,” said veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch of Young. “Now, the way he’s performed this offseason, it’s not hope anymore. You expect him to go put there and be a good player and do some good things for us.”

Brown signed a free agent contract with the Lions in the hopes their proven ability to develop undersized defensive ends like Avril might be exactly what his game needs.

“As a player you look at what you do really well and you take that thing and ask yourself, ‘How can I use it in my every-down game?’ That’s what I’m able to do here,” Brown told this offseason.

Brown recorded six sacks in two years with the Panthers before they released him in final cuts last season. He thinks he’s found the right fit with the Lions to significantly increase those totals. He might get more of a chance to prove it in training camp.

Rookie fourth-round pick Ronnell Lewis is also in line to see more time on the field with Avril sitting out and Vanden Bosch’s practice schedule likely to be monitored.

Avril could potentially miss part or all of training camp in an effort to avoid injury while playing on a one-year franchise tag. Avril isn’t likely to lose his starting spot in a holdout, but he might open the door for players like Jackson, Young and others to steal some reps, especially if they play well in training camp and the preseason in his absence.