Cliff Avril stands as OLB
Traditionally reserved for a defense that runs a 3-4, occasionally moving your downed defensive end to an outside linebacker might create some confusion for opposing offenses. Avril had an incredible campaign in 2011, no doubt. But similar to how Suh was “figured out” in a sense in 2011, I fear Avril may be susceptible to the same kind of decoding.
Avril is fast. He could play linebacker in several other defenses without a problem and the Lions might consider finding other ways to take advantage of that speed. The downside of that is offenses will note where he is and adjust their play, so there would have to be some disguising. I don’t think the Lions want Cliff out in the flats on pass coverage too often.
The other thing this would do is create several different package opportunities for the defense. The Lions have much more depth on the defensive line than they do in the linebacker corps. With great production from reserve DE Lawrence Jackson last year and expected production of Detroit’s new “secret superstar” Willie Young, they should be looking for ways to get all of this talent on the field as much as they can. So with KVB and Young at the ends, Avril could become an option to spell Justin Durant or DeAndre Levy once in a while rather than relying on the backup linebacker group that is mainly composed of rookies.
Dual RB sets with Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best
This is a bit of a radical suggestion considering the conservative nature of the Lions’ running game, but bear with me a moment. I’m not suggesting any kind of Wildcat offense or anything like that, but think about this: with two explosive running backs on the field at the same time (with different skill sets, mind you) the defense has to commit itself in several places.
Think about Stafford under center, Best and Leshoure in the backfield, Megatron and Young split wide and Brandon Pettigrew lined up on the end as either a chip-block receiver or run blocker. Leshoure could even line up as the near back with Best tailing…could they be the new “Smash and Dash” combo? They could run a hybrid option, almost like a collegiate, or dare I say, Tebow style, and can make the defense commit to chasing either one of the two backs. When Best and Leshoure are both on the field, all of the defensive backs must pay attention, even with Johnson on the field. Oh, and don’t forget that Best is a deadly receiver as well.
Alright, this is all very far-fetched. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Madden, but you have to agree: it would be a shame to see one of these guys ride the pine for the majority of the season. If both are healthy, they could be a great combination in the backfield at the same time.
Backus to LG, Reiff to LT
Moving Backus to the guard and starting the rookie wouldn’t be so much of a change-up to opposing teams, but rather a permanent offensive line solution the Lions should think about. Riley Reiff will be as raw and unprepared as any top rookie offensive lineman, but he could be the best option at left tackle as early as the start of the regular season.
I’m the first person to defend Backus even after several sack-ridden seasons, but it’d be stubborn ignorance to suggest it would be a wise organizational decision to shelf Rieff for any extended period of time in his first year. On top of this, while Backus definitely fits the physical build of a tackle, I’m certain he would perform better as an interior lineman. Guards are used mainly for smashing the defensive line on runs up the middle, as well as acting as a pulling blocker on outside runs. Backus has struggled in pass defense, but he is much more sound in the running game. We’ve all know he can seal the ends and is quick enough to get outside the tackle box. He’s played long enough to understand what it takes to transition to a different position, so I think this move fits the offensive strategy well.