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2020 training camp preview: Defensive line

Defensive ends on the roster: Trey Flowers, Julian Okwara, Romeo Okwara, Austin Bryant

Defensive tackles on the roster: Da’Shawn Hand, Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Kevin Strong, John Penisini, Jashon Cornell, Frank Herron, Olive Sagapolu, John Atkins

(Note: Atkins opted out of the 2020 season.)

Key losses: Damon Harrison Sr., A'Shawn Robinson, Mike Daniels

Table inside Article
Name Games Tackles TFL Sacks QB hits FF
Trey Flowers 15 51 8 7.0 21 2
Julian Okwara* 9 19 7 5.0 7 2
Romeo Okwara 14 28 1 1.5 10 1
Austin Bryant 4 8 0 0.0 1 0
Da'Shawn Hand 3 6 1 0.0 0 0
Danny Shelton^ 16 61 2 3.0 6 1
Nick Williams^ 16 42 5 6.0 9 0
Kevin Strong 8 5 0 0.0 0 0
John Penisini* 13 38 7 2.0 0 2
Jashon Cornell* 13 30 7.5 4.0 1 1
Frank Herron 3 6 0 0.0 0 0
Olive Sagapolu 0 0 0 0.0 0 0

^with another team *college stats

Note: Romeo Okwara is currently on Active/NFI and Austin Bryant is currently on Active/PUP.

Best competition: The rotation on the edge. 

Flowers is the Lions' best pass rusher, leading the team in sacks, pressures and quarterback hits last season. He's expected to get the majority of the reps on the edge as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. The interesting part of the edge-rushing rotation will be how Matt Patricia and new defensive coordinator Cory Undlin divvy up reps on the other side in either a four-man front or when they utilize a stand-up, on-the-ball rusher similar to the role Devon Kennard played in this defense the last couple seasons.

We could see outside linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. in that role often, but he's versatile enough to move all around the defense and play a number of different roles. We could also see rookie third-round pick Julian Okwara in that role, along with second-year defensive end Austin Bryant. 

Romeo Okwara, who is in a contract year, is looking for a bounce-back year after a down season statistically in 2019 after a very good 2018 campaign. 

Twentyman's take: There's some versatility upfront for the Lions with a number of players like Flowers and Hand able to play both inside and outside in different packages. 

Detroit revamped the interior of the defensive line this offseason with the additions of Shelton and Williams. They have different playing styles. Shelton is more of a run stuffer and Williams a penetrating pass rusher. The Lions are hoping they complement each other well inside. 

Flowers enters 2020 healthy after missing last offseason and most of training camp rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He started the season a bit slow as he worked his way back into shape, but was one of the better edge defenders in the league the second half of the season. A healthy Flowers off the bat is a big bonus for the Lions' defense. Over the last three seasons, he is one of three players in the NFL (Khalil Mack & T.J. Watt), and the only defensive end, to accumulate at least 170 tackles, 21.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles. 

The 'x factor' along the defensive front for me is the health of Hand, who was one of the top rookie interior defenders in 2018. Injuries limited him to only three games last year, and the Lions missed his pass-rushing prowess from the interior. If he can stay healthy, Detroit will have a much more explosive front with him in the rotation. 

Williams burst on the scene last season with Chicago with six sacks from the interior in his first real opportunity to play significant snaps. It's expected he and Shelton, along with Hand, will have significant roles for the Lions in 2020, and that's not a bad interior trio. 

One of the real issues with Detroit's defense a year ago was their lack of a consistent pass rush. That trickles down to every other level of the defense, and was a big reason why that side of the ball struggled so much last season. 

Detroit needs to stay healthy upfront and find the right mix of pass rush and run-stopping ability to be a much more consistent defense in 2020.

View photos from workouts during Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage on Aug. 6, 2020.

By the numbers:

7: Passes defended for Lions defensive tackles in 2019, tied with Pittsburgh for the most in the NFL last season.

9: Flowers was one of only nine defensive ends last season to record at least 20 quarterback hits and 7.0 sacks.

28: Total sacks for the Lions' defense in 2019, the fourth fewest in the league.

43.9: Opponent third-down percentage against the Lions' defense last year, which ranked 28th in that category.

Quotable: "Not having to deal with a situation or injury or things – it's allowing me to go out there and work on my craft and perfect my craft," Flowers said this offseason. "I'm looking forward to the grind. I'm looking forward to going out there and being precise and getting my details and fundamentals down."

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