Skip to main content

Lions' d-line rotation gives players a chance to step up

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell jokingly referred to the way the Lions rotate defensive linemen in and out of the game as being close to what we see with hockey lines in the NHL.

The Lions had nine defensive linemen play at least 200 snaps last season, and 11 that played at least 100 snaps.

Atlanta is the only other team in the NFL that had at least nine defensive linemen play 200 snaps. Carolina was the only other team that had at least 11 play 100 snaps.

Overall, Detroit played the second-fewest total snaps on defense, so Caldwell's hockey analogy isn't too far off the mark here.

"That's the good thing about it. It's highly competitive," Caldwell said of his defensive line group. "There are a lot of guys that I think are going to be able to help us. What it's going to boil down to is just who plays best consistently.

"We're not quite like a hockey line, but we rotate guys in there quite a bit. I mean, that's kind of the way we like it because of the fact we play fast. We practice fast."

The Lions currently have 17 defensive linemen on the roster, and as many as 11 could make the 53-man roster out of camp. The way they rotate them in and out, Detroit kept 11 on the roster for the season opener last year.

Haloti Ngata, A'Shawn Robinson, Ziggy Ansah and Kerry Hyder are mainstays. The team also signed veterans Cornelius Washington, Akeem Spence, Jordan Hill, Bruce Gaston and Ego Ferguson in free agency. Armonty Bryant, Khyri Thornton (who has been suspended the first six games of the season), Brandon Copeland and Anthony Zettel are all back for the 2017 season fighting for roles after being contributors last season. And then there's late-round draft picks Jeremiah Ledbetter and Pat O'Connor, who will have to impress in their first training camp if they plan to take one of those coveted spots on the roster.

The competition for roster spots and playing time among the defensive linemen should be some of the most fun competitions to watch in camp.

It's certainly a unit Detroit could stand to get more production out of in 2017. Their 26.0 sacks last year were second fewest in the league behind only Oakland (25.0).

Ansah being injured for a large portion of last season certainly affected those numbers – he finished with just 2.0 sacks last season – but collectively as a unit, Detroit needs more from their front four.

"We think we have some good, young pieces, some good guys," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this offseason. "But again, you never know until they get against the NFL competition, so we'll see.

"Our package is flexible enough that if we need to bring up some things and do a little bit more scheme wise to try to get (to the quarterback), that's what we'll do."

One thing that is clear is Detroit is going to continue to rotate guys in and out and a number of players will have an opportunity to make an impact.

"So, if we can get them all rolling with this particular group, I think we're going to be fine," Caldwell said. "So, there is an opportunity there, but it's going to be a challenge."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content