Akeem Spence and Jordan Hill are new to Detroit's defensive line rotation, signing as free agents in the offseason, but they're already impressing one veteran teammate.
Haloti Ngata called both players "beasts" after Monday's practice for the way they've been showing off their ability to pressure the passer, stop the run and pick up the scheme early on in training camp.
"They've picked it up so fast," Ngata said of his new teammates. "The thing is, I think they just kind of bought in faster. They bought into the system, they bought into what we wanted them to do and they just took off with it.
"Even my first year here it took me a little while to get it, to see them get it so fast is just amazing."
Both Spence and Hill are four-year vets looking to fit into Detroit's attacking scheme in their fifth seasons in the league. When Spence signed with Detroit back in March, he said he chose the Lions because the scheme fit his style of play.
Spence and Hill are a bit smaller – if you can call a 300-pound man small – and shiftier than starters Ngata and A'Shawn Robinson. They could provide a little bit different look upfront for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
The worst kind of pressure for any quarterback is the kind that comes right up the middle in their face from the interior. Of Detroit's 26 sacks last season, just 4.5 (Robinson, 2; Ngata, 1.5; Khyri Thornton, 1.0) came from the interior from the defensive tackles.
"Well, I think both guys, first of all, have been showing up," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. "Pass rushing and obviously stopping the run. They both have quickness as well as explosiveness, and they stay low to the ground so their pad level is good."
Spence spent his first four years with the Buccaneers. He made 19 tackles in four starts playing in their rotation with Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald last season. His best season was in 2014 when he had 37 tackles and three sacks.
Hill began his career in Seattle, and also produced his best season in 2014 with the Seahawks when he notched 19 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 13 games. He spent the beginning of last season on Seattle's Reserve/Injured list before being released. He then appeared in four games with the Jaguars primarily as a reserve along the defensive line.
The Lions are hoping both can recapture the production they had in 2014 in a Lions uniform in 2017.
"I've seen it before (with Hill and Akeem)," Ngata said. "J-Hill, two years ago, he was amazing. Got hurt last year so he wasn't really on the radar of anybody. And Akeem has always been a big, shifty guy. You watch the league every now and then, guys you kind of see on film and kind of just watch them and Akeem and J-Hill were always one of those guys."
How that defensive tackle rotation works itself out is still a long way off, but Spence and Hill have had a good start to training camp and will look to keep it up this week in Indianapolis and over the next month in preseason games.
"It'll be great to have an opportunity to work against some other teams and then we'll continue the evaluation, but right now, they look like they're doing what they're supposed to do," Caldwell said.
"Disruptive and having fun doing it."