Position Preview: Defensive Ends

Posted Jul 23, 2013

With a good mix of veteran and young talent, Tim Twentyman says a lot of question marks still remain at defensive end

The rookies are in the building and the veterans will be here by the end of the week. It finally feels like football season again.

The Lions did some revamping to their defense this offseason and the defensive end position is almost completely retooled.

We continue our look at the Lions roster by taking a closer look at the defensive ends.


Ezekiel Ansah 6-5 271 23 R BYU
Braylon Broughton 6-6 272 25 1 TCU
Israel Idonije 6-6 275 32 10 Manitoba
Jason Jones 6-5 276 26 6 Eastern Michigan
Spencer Nealy 6-5 277 23 R Texas A&M
Ronnell Lewis 6-2 253 22 2 Oklahoma
Devin Taylor 6-7 276 23 R South Carolina
Willie Young 6-4 251 27 4 North Carolina State


Ezekiel Ansah (college) 62 4.5 1 0 9
Braylon Broughton (Saints) – Did not play in game –
Israel Idonije (Bears) 48 7.5 1 0 0
Jason Jones 31 5.0 0 1 4
Spencer Nealy (college) 42 2.0 0 0 3
Ronnell Lewis 2 0.0 0 0 0
Devin Taylor (college) 45 3.0 0 0 6
Willie Young 11 0.0 0 0 1


34: Sacks accrued by the Lions defense last season, which tied for 20th with the Cowboys. They recorded 16 sacks on first down, seven on second down and 11 on third down.
6-foot-5: The average height of the top five projected defensive ends on the roster right now. The average height of the top five defensive ends Week 1 last year was 6-foot-3.
46.9: Percent of the time the Lions blitzed on third down and 3-yards-or-less to go last season.


The good: There are a lot of questions marks that still remain with this group. Is Ansah ready to contribute right away? There seems to be a nice mix of veteran and young talent at the position and certainly more athleticism. Will that translate into sacks? Only time will tell.
The bad: The Lions defended only three passes from the defensive end position last year. That was among the fewest in the league. Some of that is scheme and what the Lions ask of their defensive ends in terms of getting up field, but that’s pretty low over the course of a 16-game season.
The fix: This defensive end group is longer, faster and more athletic than any other the Lions have had since 2009. It was noticeable this spring how many times the defensive ends got their hands on football at the line of scrimmage. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford even talked about the adjustment he had to make during practice.


"He’s got a good feel for the game. A lot of people say its instincts. I’ve never heard of a human being having those. Maybe I’m wrong. Some doctor’s going to call me saying you’ve got to learn things. He has good eyes, you know, he sees the game and he shows up on some plays and amazes me. He has unique ability to slip gaps and show up. The tough thing right now is we don’t have pads on. That’s when the real thing’s going to be in front of him. Hopefully, he’ll be as good as we thought he was."

-- Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham talking about rookie first round pick Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.


Like I mentioned above, the position has a nice mix of veteran, experienced talent, alongside some young rookie talent.

The Lions are going to give Ansah every chance to win the starting right defensive end spot. He showed terrific speed and explosion this spring, which has a lot of people looking forward to the first day he puts on pads.

The Lions signed Jason Jones to start along the left side and he’ll get the first crack there. He’s a veteran with starting experience and knows the scheme. He’ll have big shoes to fill in Cliff Avril, though.

Willie YoungDE Willie Young

Is this the year Willie Young breaks through? Most people (myself included) thought that was going to be last year. It didn’t happen. Young signed a one-year deal this offseason, so it’s now or never for the former seventh-round pick.

Israel Idonije was one of those late signings that just simply made sense for this team. He recorded 7.5 sacks last season with the Bears and appears to have a chip on his shoulder. That’s good if you’re a Lions fan.

The nice thing about both Jones and Idonije is they’re versatile enough to slide inside on passing downs and play defensive tackle. That gives defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham a lot of versatility upfront.

Rookie fourth-round pick Devin Taylor has great size and length and will have a great shot to make the roster and even get into the defensive end rotation. He has some learning to do – like all rookies – but the physical tools are there.

It’ll be interesting to see how Ronnell Lewis bounces back from a disappointing rookie season that only saw him active for eight games. He didn’t have the impact on special teams the Lions had hoped and never cracked the playing rotation at defensive end. Is there a roster spot for him?

Braylon Broughton is an interesting prospect. He’s got good size and the Lions have tried to sign him twice, so there’s obvious interest there.

The Lions kept five defensive ends on the opening week roster last season.