Backdraft Detroit: Starring Sammie Lee Hill

Johnny LawrenceCorrespondent IMay 14, 2009

Driving home from a film session one night in Alabama, Sammie Lee Hill and two former teammates spotted a burning house.

"My teammate told me to turn around, because someone might need help and, sure enough, there was a lady outside saying that her father needs help. [Going inside] All we could do was put our hands over our faces and hope that we didn’t get hurt."

They escaped from the house with the shaken man and brought him to safety.

Hill is no stranger to rescuing the needy, and he hopes to provide relief for the Lions' burned out defensive line.

Last season, Detroit surrendered the most rushing yards in the NFL (172.1), 12 more than the second-to-last place Oakland Raiders. They allowed more rushing touchdowns (31) and yards per run than any other team (5.1). In nine games, the opposition reached the end zone twice or more via rush.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown of Detroit's rushing defense statistics:

Atlanta Falcons: 318 Yds, 7.6 Avg, 3 TD.
Green Bay Packers: 123 Yds, 4.1 Avg, 1 TD.
San Francisco 49ers: 182 Yds, 4.7 Avg, 2 TD.
Chicago Bears: 97 Yds, 2.9 Avg, 1 TD.
Minnesota Vikings: 135 Yds, 4.4 Avg, 0 TD.
Houston Texans: 150 Yds, 4.4 Avg, 2 TD.
Washington Redskins: 135 Yds, 4.1 Avg, 0 TD.
Chicago Bears: 154 Yds, 5.0 Avg, 2 TD.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 157 Yds, 4.8 Avg, 3 TD.
Carolina Panthers: 264 Yds, 8.3 Avg, 3 TD.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 116 Yds, 3.5 Avg, 1 TD.
Tennessee Titans: 292 Yds, 6.3 Avg, 4 TD.
Minnesota Vikings: 130 Yds, 4.1 Avg, 1 TD.
Indianapolis Colts: 106 Yds, 3.7 Avg, 3 TD.
New Orleans Saints: 181 Yds, 6.0 Avg, 4 TD.
Green Bay Packers: 211 Yds, 7.1 Avg, 1 TD.

Perhaps Detroit's lowest moment of 2008 occurred in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving Day. Chris Johnson and LenDale White teamed to score four times on the ground and six Titans combined to rush for almost 300 yards. Barraging the Lions' defensive line, the Titans sat on a 35-10 lead at halftime and never looked in the rear view mirror.

Tennessee embarrassed the Lions, 47-10.

Detroit required serious upgrading at the point of attack to prevent the opposition from continually bursting through as they did so many times last year. Cory Redding's departure opened a huge space up front, and reserves Shaun Cody and Langston Moore were not re-signed by General Manager Martin Mayhew.

Detroit gained free-agents Eric Hicks, Jason Hunter, Grady Jackson, as well as fourth-round draft pick Hill to fill the gaps.

The defensive line still lacks star power and an identity, but it will take defensive coordinator Gunther Cunnigham more than one offseason to put all the pieces in place.

Detroit's former Tampa-two defense under the Rod Marinelli regime emphasized smaller, quicker players, so Mayhew began to weed those out who did not fit the 4-3 scheme Cunningham plans use in most scenarios.

Just where Hill fits into the equation is yet to be determined. Some have dubbed him "a poor man's Shaun Rogers" with a better work ethic.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz said this about the 22-year-old Hill, "He has rare athletic ability for such a big man...he runs really, really well."

At 6-4, 329-pounds, most view him as a project. Hill played college football at Division II Stillman in Tuscaloosa, so few expect him to be prepared to square off against NFL competition this season. Unless injuries throw him into the mix prematurely, he will share a limited role until Lion coaches feel his techniques are up to par.

"For my size, I have tremendous athletic ability, I would say. I am hungry to play NFL football."

No matter what coaches and fans say about Hill, he believes he can help douse the flames in Detroit.


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