The Detroit Lions have a history of maximizing the skillset and production of some of their defensive line signings. Kerry Hyder this past season and George Johnson in 2014 are two very good examples.
Johnson was brought in before the 2014 season for depth, but he developed in Teryl Austin's scheme at a rapid pace, and impressed so much that he made the 53-man roster out of camp. He became a key rotational player that season, and finished third on the team in 2014 with six sacks. He was traded to Tampa Bay before the 2015 season, but hasn't had nearly the same success after leaving Detroit.
Hyder impressed Lions' brass last offseason and through training camp enough to earn himself a roster spot after spending most of the 2015 season on the practice squad. Hyder led the team last year with eight sacks.
Detroit should hope for more of the same with free-agent signees Cornelius Washington and Akeem Spence.
In 31 games over four seasons in Chicago, Washington has recorded just three sacks. Two of those came last year, when he played in 15 games and made two starts. He has the size and length the Lions like on the edge. Hopefully Washington becomes a productive component in an attacking scheme meant to bring out some of his strengths.
Spence has played in 55 games with 30 starts over four seasons in Tampa Bay. He made 19 tackles in four starts playing in their rotation with Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald last season. He signed with the Lions this offseason because he thought the defense fit his style.
"Coach Kris (Kocurek) is a high energy guy, just like one of my coaches I had in Tampa Bay, Joe Cullen, high energy guy, loves his players, wants guys to work hard and build that camaraderie here and that's something I felt like I wanted to be a part of," Spence said right after signing in Detroit.
Head coach Jim Caldwell said the team is looking for certain physical and personality traits with players that they think can be brought out and developed in their scheme.
"Some don't possess each and every one of (those traits)," Caldwell said. "But we believe that Teryl (Austin) and the rest of that group can get them headed in the right direction and do the things we require them to do.
"I do think without question that whatever (a player's) got in him, they're going to get it out of him. I do think we get the maximum out of them and will continue to do that."
In Washington's case, Kocurek coached him in the Senior Bowl back in 2013. That first-hand knowledge gives the Lions another clue as to how Washington's skillset might translate into their scheme.
"In both cases (Washington and Spence), guys have traits that we like," Caldwell said. "That we think they're going to be able to contribute."