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2019 training camp preview: Defensive line

On the roster: Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison Sr., Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson, Romeo Okwara, Austin Bryant, P.J. Johnson, John Atkins, Darius Kilgo, Eric Lee, Mitchell Loewen, Ray Smith, Kevin Strong, Jonathan Wynn

Key losses: Ziggy Ansah, Ricky Jean Francois

Table inside Article
Name Games Tackles TFL Sacks FF FR
Trey Flowers* 15 57 9 7.5 3 0
Damon Harrison Sr.# 17 81 9 3.5 2 1
Da'Shawn Hand 13 27 4 3.0 2 1
A'Shawn Robinson 13 49 3 1.0 1 1
Romeo Okwara 15 39 8 7.5 1 0
Austin Bryant^ 15 45 15 8.5 0 0
P.J. Johnson^ 9 31 8.5 3.0 1 2
John Atkins 2 2 1 0.0 0 0
Eric Lee 9 6 2 0.0 0 0
Darius Kilgo+ 11 5 0 0.0 0 0
Mitchell Loewen% 1 0 0 0.0 0 0
Ray Smith^ 12 49 3 0.0 0 0
Kevin Strong^ 12 24 6.5 1.0 0 0

*with Patriots #with Giants and Lions +with Titans %with Saints ^college stats

(Jonathan Wynn did not record any statistics in 2018)

Best competition: How does Detroit divvy up reps inside?

This is arguably Detroit’s most talented position group heading into training camp. That, of course, is assuming Harrison reports to camp after sitting out the entire offseason training program.

Harrison, Robinson and Hand all ranked among the top of the league for interior defenders by Pro Football Focus last season. Add Trey Flowers to the mix on the edge, and now Detroit can come at teams in a lot of different ways with a lot of different combinations upfront.

Hand had a stellar rookie campaign, and if his work ethic is any indication, his 2019 could be even better. Hand was graded the top rookie interior defensive lineman in the league last year by PFF.

Detroit has three high-level, starting-caliber interior defenders in Harrison, Robinson and Hand, and that’s not taking into account Flowers’ ability to move inside in passing situations and play from the interior as well.

It’s a good problem to have: So many good players upfront and only so many reps available.

View photos of the defensive lineman competing for roster spots heading into training camp.

Twentyman’s take: The addition of Flowers was big for this team. People immediately look at the 7.5 sacks he had last year – which would have tied for the Lions’ lead – and wonder if the payday matches the production. But Flowers ranked in the top 10 in hits, hurries, and total pressures in 2018. He’s also a plus defender on the edge against the run, and comes in with terrific knowledge of the scheme and techniques needed to be successful in this scheme having played under Matt Patricia in New England. Flowers has 164 tackles and 21.0 sacks over the last three years.

With Flowers, Okwara and Devon Kennard, the Lions employ three players on the edge who recorded at least 7.0 sacks last season.

Inside, Harrison is the perfect anchor and run stuffer for this gap-control scheme. He, Robinson and Hand are tough, active, and put a lot of pressure on opposing offensive lines. Harrison routinely requires double-team blocks, which provides others upfront with one-on-one matchups, and also allows the linebackers to run downhill more freely to make plays.

Detroit kept seven defensive linemen on the initial 53-man roster last season. Flowers, Okwara, Harrison, Hand and Robinson make a very strong top five. There’s a good mix of experience, talent and youth among the other nine guys vying for the last couple roster spots. Bryant, a fourth-round pick this year, is a key player among that group

If this group stays healthy, Detroit’s defensive line should be one of the team’s strengths in 2019.

By the numbers:

81 & 52: Harrison’s 81 total tackles and 52 solo tackles led all defensive tackles in the NFL in 2018.

8.1: In Weeks 8-17, the Lions surrendered only 20 rushes of 10-plus yards on 246 attempts. That’s allowing 10-yard rushes on 8.1 percent of attempts faced, tied for the best in the NFL in that span. In all of the 2018 season, the Lions finished with the fourth lowest percentage of runs allowed exceeding 10 yards (9.4).

14: The number of Lions players who recorded at least one full sack this season, matching the most since 16 different players had full sacks in the 1990 season.

3: Detroit allowed three rushing touchdowns of 20-plus yards last season, third most in the league. The Lions allowed nine 20-plus-yard runs total on the season with opponents averaging 44.2 yards on such runs, the highest percentage in the NFL.

40.7: The Lions' defense faced 942 offensive plays, with 403 of those plays being runs, 42.8 percent of the total. On those 403 runs faced, the Lions allowed 164 rushes of four-or-more yards, the fifth best percentage (40.7) in the NFL.

Quotable: “When I came to New England he was there and he kind of taught me a lot of things and I developed in his system,” Flowers said of Patricia at his introductory press conference after signing with Detroit in free agency. “He’s just a great guy to work for.

“Obviously, he demands a high standard of excellence from his players, and when you get someone that can challenge you like that day in and day out for you to get better, that’s the type of guy you want to play for.

“I just want to come in and be able to do my part as far as production, As far as disrupts and things like that. I just want to do my part in making this team better.”

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