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Lions bolster interior defensive line with DJ Reader signing

Add a big, run-stuffing defensive tackle to general manager Brad Holmes' free agent haul for the Detroit Lions.

Holmes signed veteran defensive lineman DJ Reader to a two-year contract following a visit to Allen Park on Thursday.

Reader, who turns 30 in July, is one of the league's most dominant interior defenders. He has been terrific against the run throughout his career and can also provide some disruption in the passing game. Though he only has 9.5 career sacks through eight seasons, he's produced at least 32 pressures in each of the last three seasons.

He was graded the No. 10 interior run defender in the NFL last season, two spots behind Alim McNeill, which now gives the Lions a formidable wall along the interior of their defensive line against the run.

"Super excited," Reader said Thursday of playing alongside McNeill next season. "Young player who has a lot a lot of talent. He's also a Carolina guy. I'm super happy about that. I love guys from Carolina. They have the best athletes in the country. You can quote me on that.

"I'm excited to pair with him, see the things that he does well. I watch him all the time on film. I'm excited to just get around him and be able to pick his brain about what he likes about the position. Every guy got different things they enjoy about playing D-tackle, I've got things I enjoy, so I just want to talk to him about it and pick his brain and see what he's got going on and see what our future holds."

Reader's visit to Allen Park included going over his medicals. He missed the final three games of last season after tearing his quad. He tore his other quad his first season with Cincinnati in 2020.

He said he's much further along in the rehab process than his first quad injury and expects to be ready to go by the start of the season. Reader had a career year in 2021 following the first injury.

"Last quad injury came back and went to a Super Bowl. Got a sack in the Super Bowl. Balled out, right?" he said. "That's the same confidence here. I couldn't be more confident in where I'm going to be."

The addition of Reader will make an already very good run defense even better. Detroit allowed the second fewest rushing yards last season, the third lowest rushing average against and the third fewest rushes of 10-plus yards.

Nose tackle Benito Jones played the majority of the snaps next to McNeill last season, but the Lions didn't tender him as a restricted free agent and he signed with Miami. Brodric Martin and Levi Onwuzurike played backup roles last season.

Reader was a two-time captain in Cincinnati. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo talked to Bengals reporters about Reader's importance to his defense at the NFL Scouting Combine last month.

"DJ is (a) hard guy to replace," Anarumo said, via Cincinnati Bengals Talk.

"Hopefully we don't have to, but he's such a great locker room guy to start with and then just what he does inside, in the interior of the defense, he just controls blocks. It's a lot of things that people don't see.

"You can't look at DJ Reader in that position and say let me look at his numbers. Even though he has good numbers for the position, he is just dominant when it comes to taking on blocks, taking on double teams and not getting moved. And that allows other people to make plays, and when you don't have that, it creates other issues."

View photos of new Detroit Lions defensive lineman DJ Reader.

Reader said right away when he stepped in the Allen Park practice facility and started talking to Holmes, head coach Dan Campbell and the rest of the coaches he got a sense of the culture, and also how hungry everyone is to finish what they weren't able to last season. He's hoping he can play a big role in that too.

"These guys got that same taste in their mouth that I do," Reader said. "I got to a Super Bowl and lost. These guys got to the NFC Championship and lost. Everybody in this building has that same goal to go get that taste out of their mouth and I'm so ecstatic about that part. I could run through a wall about it right now.

"You don't (always) get time to right those wrongs and this is an opportunity and I don't think we are going to take it lightly as a team to go out there and do our thing."

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