This has been an important week in Allen Park for a group that's expected to be one of the real strengths of the Detroit Lions.
All the members of Detroit's defensive line have participated in practice together.
Trey Flowers and Da'Shawn Hand have been limited participants, but participants nonetheless, and Damon Harrison Sr. says that's been huge as that unit prepares for Arizona and its "Air Raid" offense led by No. 1 pick quarterback Kyler Murray.
"We just have to get out there together more so we can kind of get an idea and a feel of how each other play," Harrison said.
Harrison said that because most of the guys upfront are established veterans, he doesn't believe that process will take too long.
"A lot of it starts with the communication in the classroom. Talking to each other and see exactly how we like to play certain plays or understanding what's his favorite rush and how he likes to do it," Harrison said. "Just going out there on the practice field and executing. It's been important (this week). I think it's probably the first time we've had everybody out there together. Yeah, this is a big week."
Flowers, Harrison, Mike Daniels, A'Shawn Robinson, Hand, Romeo Okwara and the rookie Kevin Strong make up a versatile and talented group upfront, a group Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury even called out Wednesday as being one of the best in the NFL.
If Detroit is going to have the kind of defense most expect them to, it's going to start upfront with that group of linemen. So it's been a good week for the linemen to practice together, but it's also been good for the players operating behind them. They've enjoyed seeing the picture come into clearer focus ahead of them.
Rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai got a huge smile on his face when asked about playing behind the defensive line this week in practice.
"It's been awesome," he said. "I can show it with a smile and just my excitement on the field when they make big plays. It's pretty awesome getting to play behind those guys and just see how they work because the more I get to play around them the more that I get to see how they play against the run and play against the pass, so I can adapt to how they play on the field."
TE GROUP ALL ABOUT VERSATILITY
There was a little smile that came across quaterback Matthew Stafford’s face when he was asked about the revamped tight room in Detroit that features first-round pick T.J. Hockenson and veterans Jesse James and Logan Thomas.
That was one of the least productive position groups for the Lions last season, not just from a pass catching perspective, but also as run blockers.
The Lions went through a complete makeover at the position this offseason, spending considerable resources along the way, and those three are expected to be a big part of what the Lions do on offense starting Sunday in Arizona.
"Yeah, a lot of versatility," Stafford said. "All of the guys can do a little bit of everything, which is fun to have as a quarterback. All of them are big physical guys. All of them move really well and catch the ball really well. They hold up in the run game and the pass game, blocking-wise. I'm excited and happy to have those guys. All of them are big, tall players that move well and catch the ball well in all spots."
I expect a lot of movement among that group as all three can play both the "Y" and "U" positions in this offense, which gives them the ability to be matchup pieces.
"I think we'll be able to keep ourselves from getting into any major tendencies that way because of the versatility that they have," Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of the group. "Also, they are great targets in the passing game. They have good length, they have good catch radiuses, they all catch the ball really well and they are willing blockers. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses in the group. I mean it's a huge upgrade. It's a really good room for us right now."
NO PETERSON FOR CARDINALS
The Arizona Cardinals finished last season ranked fourth against the pass, allowing just 203.9 yards through the air per game, while featuring a nice combination of upfront pressure and sticky coverage in the backend.
While the pressure is expected to be there Sunday from edge rushers Chandler Jones, Terrell Suggs and others, there's a little bit of a question mark as to how Arizona's backend will perform missing a major player back there.
Perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson is serving a six-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Arizona also lost veteran cornerback Robert Alford to a broken leg last month.
It looks like rookie Byron Murphy is expected to start at one of the cornerback spots Sunday, along with either Tramaine Brock or Chris Jones.
"Tramaine Brock has played for a long time in this league, he's an experienced player and a smart guy," Stafford said. "Both of their safeties (Budda Baker & DJ Swearinger) have played a decent amount of football, good players. '33' (Byron Murphy), the young kid is a really talented kit and a high-round draft pick. '25' (Chris Jones) was here last year, so a little bit of familiarity with him, but these guys are on NFL rosters for a reason."
Down two cornerbacks against a veteran quarterback in Stafford, and an experienced receiver group in Detroit, is not ideal for Arizona's defense. If the Lions can block the Cardinals' stout rush (49 sacks last year), there could be opportunities to take advantage of backup corners pressed into duty for the Cardinals Sunday.
Meet this week's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.