The Detroit Lions 2008 season can be summarized by three memorable moments. First and most notably, the Detroit Lions became the first team in NFL history to compile an 0-16 record in regular season play. It was an absolutely embarrassing season that was only amplified by a nationally televised 47-10 Thanksgiving Day thumping at the hands of rookie Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans.
Secondly, in what some consider the crowning achievement of the 2008 season, Lions team president and CEO Matt Millen was inexorably fired. In addition to the discharge of Millen, head coach Rod Marinelli and most of his assistants were also let go only one day after the conclusion of the regular season.
There was one moment possibly more notable than the dismissal of the malevolent Millen. That moment was the selection of Purdue University product Cliff Avril, with the 92nd pick of the third round in the 2008 NFL Draft.
In only starting four games during his rookie season, Cliff Avril recorded five sacks in what turned out to be the lone bright spot on the Lions defense, which was second-worst in NFL history. Avril’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed, as both Sports Illustrated and Sporting News named Avril to their Defensive All Rookie Teams.
Enter Detroit Lions first round selection Ndamukong Suh and free agent veteran acquisition Kyle Vandenbosch.
More importantly, the arrival of Suh meant two significant things for Cliff Avril, the first of which being a decrease in double teams.No longer would Avril see opposing guards drop step punching him to the outside tackle in pass protection.
The second and most important factor for Avril in Suh's arrival was speed. With a legitimate run stuffing defensive tackle lined up next to him, Avril was cleared to utilize his blazing 4.5 second 40 yard dash time in speed rushing the quarterback from the left end.
Avril’s 2010 sack numbers totaled 8.5 by season’s end, a number greater than Chicago Bears' future hall of fame defensive end Julius Peppers’ 2010 sack total. Avril’s sack numbers have increased with experience, and the return of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham only plays into Avril's hand.
With the 13th pick overall in 2011, the Lions selected defensive tackle Nick Fairley, immediately legitimizing an already strong defensive line.
Avril looks to be the greatest beneficiary. Coming out of Purdue in ‘08, scouts envisioned Avril, then a linebacker, making a successful transition to defensive end, and even projected Avril to be drafted in the second round.
If the consistent growth of Avril is any indication, the Lions should enjoy a top 5 defensive ranking at the end of 2011. You can be sure the Lions will be looking to get to the quarterback versus Chicago.
NFL football games are won and lost in the trenches. In controlling the line of scrimmage, you dictate the outcome of the game.
Speed translates power into momentum, and Avril has it all. Through the NFL Draft and free agency, the Lions' primary intentions are to control the defensive line.
Jim Schwartz is known for breeding dominant defensive lineman. The Vandenbosch, Fairley, Suh, and Avril defensive line combination may be the most feared of the upcoming 2011 season. Fourth year player Avril is poised for explosion, a la Jevon Kearse in 2000. At 25 years old, Cliff Avril has legitimized himself as an established pass rush threat from the defensive end position.