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2022 training camp preview: Defensive line

On the roster: Michael Brockers, Aidan Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara, Charles Harris, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Julian Okwara, Josh Paschal, Jashon Cornell, Austin Bryant, John Cominsky, James Houston, Eric Banks, Bruce Hector, Demetrius Taylor

Key losses: Trey Flowers, Nick Williams, John Penisini

Table inside Article
Name Games Tackles TFL Sacks FF
Michael Brockers 16 52 4 1.0 0
Aidan Hutchinson* 14 62 16.5 14.0 2
Charles Harris 17 65 10 7.5 2
Romeo Okwara 4 6 1 1.0 0
Levi Onwuzurike 16 35 2 1.0 0
Alim McNeill 17 39 3 2.0 0
Julian Okwara 13 27 6 5.0 1
Josh Paschal* 12 52 15 5.0 1
Jashon Cornell 1 0 0 0.0 0
Austin Bryant 14 31 5 4.5 0
John Cominsky^ 4 2 1 0.0 0
James Houston* 13 70 24.5 16.5 7
Eric Banks 3 1 0 0.0 0
Bruce Hector 3 5 0 0.0 0
Demetrius Taylor* 13 24 10.5 7.0 1

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Starting spots

The Lions have a pretty diverse group of skill sets with their personnel upfront on defense, which will give coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive line coach Todd Wash some versatility with their matchups both inside and outside.

The Lions didn't treat No. 2 overall pick Hutchinson with kid gloves in the spring. He was getting some reps with the first-team defense in OTAs and minicamp, and the expectation is for him to play a big role on defense on the edge, but he's also got the versatility to slip inside in some packages.

Harris is fresh off a well-earned contract extension this offseason, and he'll be an important player off the edge as well. It will be interesting to see when Romeo Okwara is back in the fold after suffering an Achilles injury early in the season last year. He might not be ready for the start of camp, but we'll see.

Inside there's expected to be good competition up and down the roster for starting spots and key roles. The veteran Brockers has become a leader in the room, but the Lions will want to get McNeill, Onwuzurike and Paschal on the field as much as they can as well.

Julian Okwara and Bryant are kind of hybrid pass rushers and outside linebackers and we could see them in multiple roles along the front seven.

View photos of the Detroit Lions defensive linemen heading into training camp.

Twentyman's take: The Lions need this unit to step up more than any other unit if they're going to be a better football team overall in 2022. The Lions were 31st in points allowed per game (27.5), 29th against the pass (379.8), 28th against the run (135.1) and 29th on third down (45.1) a year ago. Those are team stats, but it all starts upfront on defense, and last season the Lions didn't play enough on the other side of the line of scrimmage, or make enough game-changing plays.

Glenn switched up his scheme to an even 4-3 attacking front vs. the 3-4 read and react unit they were last year in his first season as DC. He thinks a more attacking, up-field scheme better fits the skillsets of his personnel. He's hoping it leads to more pressure and sack production.

One of the big catalysts behind that is the addition of Hutchinson, who is expected to give the Lions a big boost from a pass-rush and edge setting perspective.

"I think he's a better athlete than I thought he was," Wash said of Hutchinson in June. "It's kind of a unique way he can lean and bend that we didn't necessarily always see on tape. But out here, we see it, and versus good competition. We're very, very excited about where he's at."

Onwuzurike and McNeill are expected to take big leaps in their second seasons. McNeill was a Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Team selection. Onwuzurike bulked up this offseason and has put some of the injury concerns from a year ago behind him.

If the Lions are going to be a better defense in 2022, they have to get more from those guys up front.

By the numbers:

1 of 4: Harris was one of just four players in the NFL last season (Aaron Donald, Micah Parsons & Haason Reddick) to record at least 65 tackles, 7.0 sacks and two forced fumbles.

5.0: Sacks recorded by Lions rookies last season, tied for the fifth most in the NFL.

37: Total number of negative plays forced by the Lions' defense last season, which ranked 31st in the league.

30: Sacks recorded by the Lions' defense as a whole in 2021, the second fewest in the league a season ago.

110: Combined tackles for Lions edge rushers last season, the third most tackles among an NFL team's edge rushers. They also combined for 22 tackles for loss or no gain, tied for the seventh most in the NFL among the position group.

Quotable: *"I think it really fits the more athletic guys we have," Wash said of the change in philosophy upfront on defense. "The guys we have, were not overly big besides Mac (McNeill).

"Right now, we have to be able to take the fight to them. I think this really fits, with the athleticism we have up front right now.

"Obviously, the game is spread out. Offenses are starting to become basketball on grass. We have to be able to play on people's edges. We have to affect the quarterback more than we have in the past."

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