Detroit Lions: Why Defensive End Could Be Their Greatest Strength in 2011 Season

Ben LorimerSenior Analyst IIMay 19, 2011

Detroit Lions: Why Defensive End Could Be Their Greatest Strength in 2011 Season

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    DETROIT - OCTOBER 31: Kyle Vanden Bosch #93 of the Detroit Lions hits Donovan McNabb #5 of the Washington Redskins during the first quarter of the game at Ford Field on October 31, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Lawrence Jackson. Kyle Vanden Bosch. Cliff Avril. Turk McBride. The Detroit Lions have four proven defensive ends coming into the 2011 season, and look set to create as much carnage on the outside of the offensive line as the inside. In this article I will outline the strengths of each defensive end on the roster, and why it will be their best position.


Cliff Avril

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    TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 19:  Defensive end Cliff Avril #92 of the Detroit Lions sacks quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    He rose from obscurity to the limelight after a dominant 2010 season when his speed off the edge put quarterbacks under all kinds of pressure. Of all the ends, he is the only sure thing to start, and will make the most of it.

    As a speed rusher his biggest problem comes when teams double team him. Instead of outrunning tackles he is forced to slog his way through traffic. However, the addition of Nick Fairley should stop this as he will become the third wheel on a vary dangerous Lions defensive line.

    I do not want to belittle Avril's power either. Although he has a slight frame he is explosive in his lower half, evidenced by his 33 inch vertical leap, and in the upper half, shown by his 27 repetitions on the bench press. He definitely has the ability to play the run, and with another year in the game I think we will see serious improvement in that part of his game.

    His speed, developing pass rush skills and the people around him make him a sleeper to have a double digit sack total in 2011.

Kyle Vanden Bosch

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    DETROIT - OCTOBER 31: Kyle Vanden Bosch #93 of the Detroit Lions hits Donovan McNabb #5 of the Washington Redskins during the first quarter of the game at Ford Field on October 31, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    This could very well be the biggest question mark of the Lions next season. Will Kyle Vanden Bosch be able to play at a high level next season? He is going to be 33 next season, and is coming off a serious neck injury. Nevertheless, he showed he could be dominant last season, and while he may lose his starting job to Lawrence Jackson, I would be surprised if he disappeared completely given the quality of the Lions line.

    Everyone knows that Vanden Bosch's greatest strength is his non-stop motor, but his array of pass rush moves and surprising strength also give him a chance to beat a guy off the snap. He is also solid in run defense.

    Regardless of his on-field performance, his biggest effect on the team could well be his influence on Nick Fairley. The new Lion's biggest problem is his motor which runs hot and cold. However, Kyle Vanden Bosch, the leader of the defense, will go out of his way to make him work hard and play to the whistle every down.

Lawrence Jackson

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    RENTON, WA - CIRCA 2010: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Lawrence Jackson of the Seattle Seahawks poses for his 2010 NFL headshot circa 2010 in Renton, Washington. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
    Handout/Getty Images

    I am sorry that I could not find a picture of Lo-Jax in the Lions uniform, but regardless of his uniform, he could be one of the break out players for the Lions in 2011. He could very well pick up the mantle of Vanden Bosch at the right defensive end position after playing at an elite level in the defensive end rotation last year.

    Jackson was a first round pick in 2008, so it is no surprise that he has all the athletic ability to dominate as a defensive end. He is powerful and is quick off the snap, and has finally got an effort transplant which made him very dangerous rushing the passer and stuffing the run.

    As a starter, and the fourth most dangerous pass rusher on the defensive line, he should see plenty off opportunities to get after the passer. While I do not expect a 10 sack season, he should make at least six, which he recorded in 2010.

Turk McBride

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    DETROIT, MI - CIRCA 2010:  In this photo provided by the NFL, Turk McBride of the Detroit Lions poses for his 2010 NFL headshot circa 2010 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
    Handout/Getty Images

    Another cast off from another team, McBride was a second round pick from the Kansas City Chiefs before the Lions claimed him off waivers last season. While playing in relief, he recorded five sacks and forced three fumbles.

    Like Jackson, McBride is a very athletic player who struggled to put it all together while playing with the Chiefs. However, when playing with the Lions front four, he was a very good back-up who forced offensive tackles to stay on their toes.

    His greatest strength is his speed off the line which he uses to get around the tackles and get in his face. He is also powerful in the upper body, which allows him to disengage from tackles if they manage to latch on to him. Anyone who saw him manhandle Chad Clifton on his way to sack Rodgers last year would tell you that he has real potential.

    While he will once again be a back-up for the Lions in 2011, his snaps should increase as Jim Schwartz looks to keep the defensive line as fresh as possible and make use of his great depth.

Willie Young

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    DETROIT - AUGUST 28: Willie Young #79 of the Detroit Lions slaps the ball away from Colt McCoy #12 of the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter of the preseason game at Ford Field on August 28, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Browns
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    There has been some chatter on the Lions webpage that converting Young to a linebacker would maximise his potential and get him on the field faster. While this is an interesting and attention grabbing idea, his potential as a pass rusher and the age of Vanden Bosch makes this an unattractive option. In less than one game of snaps last season, Young recorded two quarterback hurries and showed real game speed.

    That speed projects to be his greatest strength. While he is undersized at 250 lbs, and does not figure to be much of a force against the run, he has a long wingspan and knows how to get after the passer. All in all, he projects to be a good developmental pass rush specialist to be brought on on passing downs to complement Avril, Ndamukong Suh and Fairley.

    In his second NFL season, I would expect him to record his first sack, and solidify his place in a talented a deep defensive line rotation.

The Wildcards: Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley

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    DETROIT - OCTOBER 31:  Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions recovers a late fourth quarter fumble from Rex Grossman #8 of the Washington Redskins an scores a touchdown at Ford Field on October 31, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Redski
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Although they are defensive tackles, I would be very surprised if they did not each play five or six snaps a game at defensive end. Suh showed that he could dominate at that position last season, and Fairley plays more like a defensive end than Suh does and should be able to play there too.

    This formation would benefit the Lions by getting all four starter calibre defensive tackles on the field at the same time, and create a massive defensive line on run downs. With Suh and Fairley at the end positions, and two 320 lbs tackles clogging the middle, it would give the weak linebacker corps a boost stuffing the run on obvious rushing downs. Because Suh and Fairley are athletic enough to beat tackles to the corner, it would not cause much of a downturn in the potency pass rush.


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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28:  Defensive lineman Nick Fairley of Auburn looks on during the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    While the first round addition of this guy is leading many to claim that our defensive tackle group is our best, the depth of starter quality pass rushers at defensive end leads me to propose a different conclusion. Avril, Jackson, Vanden Bosch and McBride could all be starters on a weaker defensive line, and Young is a talented specialist pass rusher. Then of course, the two defensive tackles could line up there too.

    This combination of players could be as good as any in football, and given Corey Williams penalty troubles and Fluellen's lack of impact plays, I would have no trouble in christening the defensive end's as Detroit's best group, bar none. The pressure that Suh and Fairley put on the interior of any offensive line should allow the edge rushers to tee off at quarterbacks all game, and we could see some seriously good statistical seasons from the starters.