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Lions add length and size to defense

Detroit Lions' new-look front includes three acquired defensive ends who are 6-foot-5 or taller.

FOUR-DOWN TERRITORY

 

First down: The Detroit Lions have tried to get bigger -- and longer -- at defensive end.


The result could be more passes getting knocked down at the line of scrimmage this coming season.


J.J. Watt, the league’s most disruptive defensive lineman, knocked down 16 passes last year for the Houston Texans.


The Lions’ nine defensive linemen, meanwhile, combined for only nine.


Defensive tackle Sammie Hill had three, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh two, and four other players -- defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Willie Young, and defensive tackle Nick Fairley -- one each.


The Lions lost Hill and Avril, along with defensive end Lawrence Jackson, in free agency, and Vanden Bosch was released.


The new-look front includes first-round draft pick Ziggy Ansah, fourth-round pick Devin Taylor and free-agent acquisition Jason Jones.


Ansah (6-foot-5, 271 pounds) knocked down nine passes last season for BYU, Taylor (6-7, 276) had six for South Carolina and Jones (6-5, 276) four with the Seattle Seahawks.


“Gun (defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham) did a study on sacks and arm length and height,” general manager Martin Mayhew said. “It was something that we were kind of focused on.”


Coach Jim Schwartz joked about the size and length that the Lions have added.


“We’ve got a chance to lead the NFL in rebounding with some of the guys we’re putting out there,” Schwartz said “We’ve seen a couple real tall guys affect the passer against us. I think that dynamic played into it.


“We’re not starting off our pass-rush drills with getting our hands up. You’re not going to sack the quarterback very much if the first thing you’re going to do is think about knocking passes down.


“But it is a byproduct of it. It’s also a byproduct of it when you’re engaged in a block that you can reach over and still make a tackle. You can still affect the play.”

 

Second down: Seventh-round pick Michael Williams, who played on three national champions at Alabama, is a very good blocker but not the downfield receiving threat like many tight ends these days.


“I don’t like the word throwback,” Williams said. “I use the word traditional. In today’s game, sometimes people get caught up with tight ends doing more with the receiving corps and sometimes they forget about the blocking end of it. I’m looking to try and bring that back.”

 

Third down: Taylor’s number of sacks dropped his final year, perhaps not coincidentally as South Carolina teammate Jadeveon Clowney was emerging as the top player in college football.


“He didn’t leave a whole lot of table scraps,” Schwartz said of Clowney’s production.

Taylor was certainly viewed as “the other” defensive end.


“I never really had a problem with being the other guy on the other side,” said Taylor, who went from 7 ½ sacks as a sophomore and six as a junior to three his final year. “If anything, it just made me want to work harder.”

 

Fourth down: The Lions lost one of their most vocal leaders when they cut Vanden Bosch.


That strong personality will be missed on a team that already didn’t seem to have enough leadership.


“I think that needs to be organic, it needs to grow itself,” Schwartz said. “You can’t force that. You can’t appoint somebody. They have to develop on their own.”


Linebacker Stephen Tulloch is likely to take on a greater role. The return of receiver Nate Burleson, who missed much of last season because of a broken leg, also will help.