Could Suh get 12, 14 or possibly 15 sacks in year two? The optimism was through the roof.
“You know we have that big personnel meeting at the end of the season and we had it at the end of (2010) season and I was walking down the hallway and Kris Kocurek was walking with me, our defensive line coach,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew told reporters back in January.
“I said, ‘Man, I feel sorry for you because if he doesn’t get 10 sacks (in 2011), everybody’s going to say he can’t play.’
“That’s just how the league is. If you go back and look at (the 2010) year, look at every game and the way he played, and look at (last) year and every game and the way he played, it’s really not that different.”
The stat book was significantly different, though, and so was the lack of “splash” plays coming from Suh. No forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions or touchdowns that we saw his rookie season. His sack total dropped from 10 to four and his tackles decreased from 66 to 36. Add in the two-game suspension for the stomping incident on Thanksgiving and it’s no wonder people considered it a down year.
Even Suh called his 2011 season “indifferent.”
"It's a very important year for myself personally," he said about this upcoming season. "Every single year I want to outdo the previous year. My rookie season (was a good year), last year was an indifferent year. This year I have an opportunity to have an outstanding year."
The Lions plan to help Suh accomplish this by moving him around the line a little more than they have in the past to help create some good matchups and less double teams. They've also worked with him on a few technique issues discovered during the film cut-up sessions after last season.
If Suh can get back to making the impact plays he did in 2012 -- which he seems very motivated to do -- the Lions will be well on their way to another 10-win season and playoff appearance.
The Defensive Tackles:
* College Statistics
By the numbers:
37.9: Opposing offenses efficiency percentage on third and fourth down-and-1 against the Lions defense last season (11-of-29).
35: Defensive line sacks by the Lions in 2011, fourth most by a defensive line in NFL.
14: Sacks by Ndamukong Suh since the beginning of 2010 are the second-most by a defensive tackle in the NFL. (Justin Smith 16)
The top four spots at defensive tackle are solid all the way around for the Lions and they feel like they can rotate Suh, Williams, Fairley and Hill around and not skip a beat with any combination. In fact, the Lions experimented a little bit this offseason with all four linemen on the field together in short-yardage situations. I've dubbed it the "Diesel" package.
The Lions kept five defensive tackles – including Fluellen – out of camp last year. The way they like to rotate players in, it wouldn’t be surprising if they kept five again this year, especially considering that Fluellen can play both tackle and end, which he’s done in the past.
The only problem I potentially see in keeping five defensive tackles again this season is that the Lions are loaded at defensive end with the addition of
Player to watch:
For a quarter in New Orleans late last season we all saw what kind of player Nick Fairley can potentially be for the Lions. Before aggravating the foot injury that hampered him all of last season, Fairley had two tackles for loss and a sack in the first quarter of an eventual 31-17 loss to the Saints. Did I mention the Saints had two Pro Bowl guards in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks a season ago.
When healthy, Fairley possesses a rare combination of speed and quick hands for a player his size. Fairley has looked terrific on the practice field this offseason, though off of it has been a bit tumultuous. He was arrested once for marijuana possession and once for DUI, both in Alabama this offseason. Fairley has yet to hear from the NFL on any potential penalties coming his way for his off-the-field wrongdoings.On it, though, Fairley has looked terrific.
"He's had an outstanding offseason out here on the field," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of his 2011 first-round pick (No. 13 overall). "Not so good off the field, but he's been outstanding in practice here. He's worked his butt off.
"He's in great condition. He's done some things on tape just out here running around that make you run the tape back and go, 'Who was that?' He has a tremendous, tremendous talent level, and hopefully he can fulfill that."
Finally healthy with the foot injury behind him, fans can expect to see more of Fairley on the field this season and potentially a lot more of him and Suh teamed up together, especially on passing situations.
"He needs to make sure the off-the-field stuff … doesn't keep him from being the player we know he can be,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “He's got a great personality, he works out hard, and he's had a good spring."
Let’s see if that transitions into training camp and the preseason?