One thing second-year defensive lineman Josh Paschal showed at the end of his rookie season last year when the Lions' defense really started coming on was his strength and versatility upfront. He could play inside or outside, set a good edge in the run game and affect the quarterback.
That showed up again Week 1 in Kansas City when Paschal had three tackles and a critical tackle for loss on a third and short play late in that game that helped the Lions to a one-point win against the defending Super Bowl champs.
But then a knee issue flared up the following week in practice ahead of Detroit's Week 2 matchup with Seattle and Paschal was placed on IR. He missed the next five games. Paschal returned to practice late last week and has progressed well this week. He could play Sunday in Baltimore.
"I think the thought is we'll probably get him going here and it's good to have him back," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Friday. "He has versatility because he can play the big end, he can play three-technique, he can play one of the outside backers if needed.
"So, he brings A, a motor, B, he's got power, he's explosive, and he's a pretty headsy player. So, it's just – it brings a little more ammo to the front that he's playing pretty good right now. Certainly, it's going to help us."
The Lions have been playing terrific defensive football all year but in particular the last month. They are top 10 in the NFL in points allowed (18.8), total defense (285.8) and run defense (64.7). Paschal's return would give them another versatile player upfront to throw at a Ravens' offense that's No. 5 in the NFL in rushing at 144.8 yards per game on the ground.
"Really good run player, really good pocket-pusher," Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of Paschal. "Drafted that player to do exactly that, so once he gets back, we're expecting him to do those things."
Paschal said Friday the knee feels good, and he's excited to get back into the mix with his defensive linemates.
"I'm chomping at the bit, for sure," he said. "I'm ready to get back out there and contribute with the guys and go out there and fly around. Week 1 was fun so I'm ready to get back to it the rest of the year."
The last time Jahmyr Gibbs was healthy and David Montgomery was not Week 3 vs. Atlanta, Gibbs carried the bulk of the load in the run game for the Lions with 17 of Detroit's 31 carries on the afternoon. Gibbs rushed for 80 yards with a 4.7-yard average per carry against the Falcons in a Detroit win.
With Gibbs back from a hamstring injury that kept him out the last two weeks and Montgomery not expected to play with a rib injury, Campbell said the plan is to rely on his rookie running back once again this week in Baltimore.
"Yeah, I think certainly he's going to need to take the load of it," Campbell said of Gibbs' usage on Sunday.
"We're just going to have to see where he's at. I'd like to say we want to be careful with him but the reality of it is, we need him. So, we'll go as far as he can take us here, trying to be as smart as we can, but he's got to do. And he's ready, he's ready."
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, October 19, 2023.
JACK CAMPBELL'S VERSATILITY
Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said when the Lions' defensive coaching staff saw Jack Campbell's college tape at Iowa they thought he was underutilized in some areas and had a skill set they could tap into in some creative ways.
That's certainly been the case here in Detroit through six weeks as the Lions have tapped into some of Campbell's on-the-ball skills. He's played 61 snaps on the line of scrimmage, 102 in the box and even 17 reps in the slot, per Pro Football Focus. His on-ball and off-ball skills allow him and this defense to be a little more versatile.
"We saw things in the tape where we thought he could provide different things and there were opportunities within our scheme to move him around a bit and sure enough whatever you really call on Jack to do he's going to know what to do and go do it 100 miles per hour," Sheppard said Friday.
Campbell has 26 tackles on the season (16 solo) with a couple tackles for loss, a sack, a quarterback hit and a pass defended. His ability to play different spots provides versatility within Detroit's defensive scheme and the opportunity to put multiple linebackers on the field and keep the offense guessing.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has been working his way back from a knee injury that's kept him out of Detroit's last four games, but Campbell thinks his veteran guard is close to getting back on the field on Sunday.
"Yeah, I feel like he's looked better," Campbell said of Vaitai's week of practice. "I feel like every week he's gotten better and better since coming back from the injury. So, I think he's close. I think he's close. I think he's close to helping us."
Vaitai didn't allow a single sack, quarterback hit or pressure in his first two games of the season before suffering the injury.