NFL Scouting Combine

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O'HARA: Combine to feature edge rushers with strong credentials

INDIANAPOLIS – Going strictly by the numbers, a case can be made that there was good and bad in the Detroit Lions’ pass rush in 2018.

The good: 43 sacks, tied for 11th in the league with the Ravens, Texans and Seahawks. That was an increase of eight over 35 in 2017.

The bad: The Lions did not have a player with double-digit sacks. Romeo Okwara led the team with 7.5.

Bottom line: Rehashing an old line, the Lions had a pass rush but lacked an elite pass rusher. The mission for 2019 should be to find one.

The Lions’ desire to add playmakers to the defense has been repeated as often as Queen’s “We Will Rock You” anthem at sports events.

Before this year’s Combine prospects arrived in Indy to lift, jump, run and meet with teams, head coach Matt Patricia already felt that projections of a strong defensive draft are on the mark.

“I would say there are some defensive players in there that are impact type of guys – that we’ll see how they fall, they could help us,” Patricia said this week.

Patricia and GM Bob Quinn and their respective staffs already have seen some of the top 2019 draft prospects at postseason all-star games and at the Senior Bowl.

Defensive end Montez Sweat of Mississippi State is a player who’s already made an impression. He had 29.5 tackles for loss with 22 sacks in his last two seasons. He added to his resume with a strong Senior Bowl performance.

Nick Bosa of Ohio State, Josh Allen of Kentucky, Rashan Gary of Michigan and Clelin Ferrell of Clemson are draft prospects with strong credentials as edge rushers. Others are certain to rise before the draft starts on April 25.

The Lions made a seismic transformation in their defensive philosophy in Patricia’s first season. They went away from a 4-3, which had been their base defense since 1997, to a multiple defense that could not be categorized as a 3-4 or 4-3.

It took a while for players to adjust to the multiple fronts and extensive use of sub packages that put a premium on assignment execution, but the defense made steady improvement to finish 10th overall, 10th against the run and eighth against the pass.

What was lacking was the individual pass rusher in the front seven who could create havoc in the pocket and force turnovers. Last season the Lions generated only 14 takeaways – seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

As Quinn said at the Season Ticket Member Summit a couple weeks ago, the defense needs players who take the ball away.

Playmakers who can get to the quarterback with skill, regardless of scheme help do that. Blind-side hits on the quarterback cause errant passes and force fumbles.

“I think that always helps if you have guys that can win one-on-one situations,” Patricia said. “I think many players have proven that to be effective. Whatever the case may be, we’ll try to generate pressure on the quarterback.

“Those guys that are just those players that win one-on-one in those pass-rush situations are very special guys. It’s not different than receivers that can win one-on-one situations, or DBs (defensive backs) that can cover in one-on-one situations.

“Those are special skills, and we’re trying to find them anytime we can.”

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