Out of all the problems the 0-16 Lions had last year, the No. 1 reason they lost so many games was the total lack of anything resembling a run defense. The front seven, well usually eight, guys were man-handled every single week.
The Lions had lots of concerns and did a decent job of addressing them in the offseason. The defensive line, however, has not been one of them.
The addition of Grady Jackson was a solid move. He is a big run stuffing defensive tackle and should show up in the run game immediately. It looked like we would see Cory Redding moved back to the under tackle spot where he has been more effective in his career.
Instead, Redding is gone, albeit for a Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker.
This leaves Chartric Darby as the under tackle. Darby is an effort guy that is a nice addition in the locker room, but he's not a top defensive tackle.
The defensive end position has not been addressed to date, leaving Cliff Avril, DeWayne White, Jared Devries, and Ikaika Alama-Francis to fill those spots.
The defensive line play has to be the biggest question mark this season. I know many think the offensive line is a bigger problem, but I disagree. We can address them later.
Right now the defensive end position is dependent on a second year player that was drafted in the Millen era, Cliff Avril, or another underachiever from the Millen era, Alama-Francis.
White is solid No. 2 end, and although he may not be worth his contract, he still gives the Lions sacks and tackles with some consistency.
The No. 1 end position is the problem. I like Cliff Avril, and he showed some things last season. He has the ability to turn the corner, but he lacks ideal size and strength at the position.
If he can bulk up about 10 pounds and retain his speed, then he may surprise a lot of people this year.
The other young end, Alama-Francis, has good size against the run and moderate speed, but he's not a No. 1 end. He's a back up.
He's got the size to do well in the run game but hasn't really shown any consistency or signs that he can develop into starting material. He has improved some but has a long way to go to earn a starting job.
Devries doesn't have the speed to get to the quarterback anymore. He has never been great, and now he's nothing better than a backup from what I've seen the last few years.
He's got the size to hold up against the run but doesn't appear to have the strength to do so. I think we've seen the end of Devries as a starter. He provides veteran depth at least.
The interior of the line improved with the addition of Grady Jackson, no question. The real problem is going to be whether or not he can hold up.
A 36-year-old 345 lb. man is not going to play every down. He will be very helpful in short yardage and on run downs, but how much more can be expected?
Jackson will have to be rotated in and out to stay fresh. If the season started today the depth chart would have Darby and Jackson starting with Fluellen as the primary backup.
If Jackson is out of the game, the Lions have the same problem as last year. An undersized front line that lacks penetrating speed to make up for it.
Sammie Lee Hill, although he's admittedly a project, is a great pick up. He should have a game day weight at 325 pounds or more, and he has good quickness for his size.
The question for Hill is whether or not he can learn technique and harness his raw abilities enough to be effective at the NFL level. He just doesn't have the experience.
The great thing about Jackson being here is that he has a similar background to Hill: smaller school, big size, and needed some extra coaching. If Hill gets the technique down he could really turn into a disruptive force.
You may think I'm crazy, but I can see Albert Haynesworth as his potential ceiling. He has the physical ability. This year, however, he isn't likely to make much impact, at least not early on.
John Gill, the other rookie defensive tackle this year, is an intriguing prospect. He and Hill are the second and third largest defensive linemen the Lions have now. I think Gill can develop into a decent player.
Northwestern has a decent history with defensive line players, and Gill has produced his entire collegiate career. He needs to continue to get stronger but could see limited action this season as a backup.
As it stands, the Lions have two guys they can count on on the defensive line. They really need six. This is why it's the biggest question on the team right now.
With the new linebackers in place, the Lions could become a respectable defense with good defensive line play.
The defense is better, it's just not there yet. At least there's potential for goods things this year and for the future.
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