Over the first few days of camp, the word around Allen Park as it relates to defense has been mostly good, but some of the names impressing aren’t the ones you’d normally imagine, especially along the line.
Think about the Detroit Lions’ defensive line, and thoughts immediately drift to Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the hulks in the middle and Ziggy Ansah, the wunderkind on the edge. This season, though, there’s a few other names that could be set to emerge from the shadows.
DetroitLions.com’s Tim Twentyman has a few quotes about resurgent defensive end Jason Jones, lost last season to injury, and newcomer George Johnson, both of whom have impressed thus far.
After 11 months of rehab, Jones is back to 100 percent to start training camp and the Lions still have big plans for their under-the-radar free agent signing from a year ago.
“Sitting at home watching the games (last year) I could definitely see myself in on certain downs and me inside rushing,” Jones said. “A lot of people played out of place because of me.”
“This year, we’re going to do the same thing. I’m going to play inside as well too and I think I’m effective on the inside. This year I’m ready to do all the coaches ask (of me). I’m going to be inside and outside.”
So far, it looks as if Jones is completely healed from last season’s unfortunate knee injury, sustained in a week three contest against Washington. Detroit’s defensive line did a decent job last year, but could have been even tougher if not for the loss of the versatile Jones so early on.
Johnson, meanwhile, has turned heads so far in camp initially thanks to his size and aggressiveness. While playing with the Buccaneers and Vikings, he was a bit bigger, but has since trimmed down his body which has helped his agility.
Johnson has slimmed down since his days in Minnesota, and (Jim) Caldwell says that’s helped him immensely.
“Well, George Johnson has changed his body, first of all, a tremendous amount since he’s been in the league,” Caldwell said. “He used to be a lot bigger, carry more weight.”
“But he always had a bit of a quick twitch and now that he’s down in size a bit, (defensive) end is probably his more natural position. It appears he probably bulked up to try and get that kind of size he thought he needed to play in this league, but he’s got a gift, speed and quickness.”
Additionally, the Lions will depend on contributions from end and linebacker hybrid Darryl Tapp (who has collected 25 career sacks), massive-framed rookie rush end George Webster and rookie defensive tackle Caraun Reid. All have unique abilities to rush the passer included in their repertoire, which is diverse ranging from inside out to outside in. Many players including Jones have been quoted as saying they enjoy Teryl Austin’s scheme, which will involve plenty of flipping and interchanging.
Suddenly, Detroit’s line rotation looks like more than just Suh, Fairley and the currently recovering Ansah. Should the Lions be able to get solid results from one of Jones, Johnson or Tapp and see the emergence of a rookie such as Webster or Reid, suddenly, the rotation will be stocked with quality youth. Tapp is the elder of the group, and he’s 29 with milage left.
What looked like a position of question after the subtraction of Willie Young may end up quickly turning into a position of strength thanks to some versatile players most may not currently have on their radar.
Keep your eyes on the entire defensive line as camp and the preseason unfolds though, and chances are, you’ll still like what you see.
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