After months of negotiations and back-and-forth through the media, the Lions and defensive end
“I probably won’t be there the first day, that’s for sure,” Avril said in an appearance on ESPN Wednesday when asked about reporting to training camp with the rest of the Lions veterans July 26. “I have to sit down with my agent and figure out when is a good time, it we’re even going to show up, I’m not sure yet.”
I don’t see a whole lot of benefit for Avril to sit out of training camp other than it limits his chances of getting hurt and the fact that training camp isn’t exactly fun for players. The Lions can’t negotiate with Avril until after the season, so he’s not gaining any leverage. He must simply think it limits his risk of injury, or he's still ticked a deal couldn't get done.
As far as how this might affect the Lions defense, that’s anyone’s guess. Avril has been working out on his own all offseason – much like he did last year during the lockout – and will presumably continue to do so until he reports to training camp or the start of the regular season.
He led the Lions with 11 sacks and six forced fumbles last year, becoming the first Lions player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to record 10+ sacks, one fumble return touchdown and one interception return touchdown in the same season.
There’s no underestimating the impact Avril had on the Lions’ defense last season. He was voted the team’s defensive player of the year and he's an important piece of the puzzle on defense.
The Lions have other pieces, though.
If Avril does holdout for most of camp, it’ll give players like
By the numbers:
17: Fumbles forced by the Lions last year, fourth most in the NFL.
7: Players in Lions history who had returned a fumble and an interception for a touchdown in the same season before Cliff Avril did it last season.
12th: Place on the Lions single-season sack list that Avril’s 11 sacks last season rank. Al “Bubba” Baker is No. 1 with 23 in 1978.
Much like their defensive line rotation, the Lions can run Avril, Vanden Bosch, Jackson and Young into the game in any combination and feel pretty good about it. Those four will head to camp as the top four in the rotation and the foundation of their edge rushing attack.
Rookie fourth-round pick Ronnell Lewis will try to crack the playing rotation in training camp, but is more likely to contribute on special teams than on defense – at least initially.
Brown has the potential to throw a monkey wrench into the Lions’ plans, though. The former second-round pick of the Panthers (No. 43 overall) had a combined six sacks in 28 games in his first two seasons with the Panthers before he was released in final cuts last year.
Brown is an undersized rusher (6-1, 256) who’s hoping his quickness and skills as a speed rusher is appreciated a little more in the Lions’ Wide-9 scheme.
"The biggest thing is trying to match players with what you're going to ask them to do, and his talents are unique and I think they fit our scheme very well," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said at Brown at the league meetings in Palm Beach, Florida earlier this offseason.
"He reminds me a lot of Cliff Avril a few years ago and I think that if he's going to succeed, he has a very good chance to do it in this scheme -- and he's still a young player, he's still talented."
Brown will get a chance to showcase that talent in camp.
Player to watch:
When Lions general manager Martin Mayhew singled out Willie Young as one of the three players who have impressed him the most this offseason, the pressure ratcheted up on Young.
When I told Young what Mayhew had said, he said he wasn’t feeling any more pressure because of Mayhew’s comments. Personally, I think it would be hard not to. Young came into his own last year with three sacks, none more important than the one against the Cowboys with 35 seconds left that sealed a come-from-behind victory. The fact that he was in the game for that opportunity says a lot of what the Lions think of him.
The website Profootballfocus.com labeled Young a “Secret Superstar." It seems a lot of people – including Young himself – is expecting a lot from the former seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State.
“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. “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.”