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The Detroit Lions and the Wide Nine: What Cliff Avril’s Departure Could Mean for 2013


With Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch now former Detroit Lions, the team’s defensive ends were already guaranteed to look differently in 2013. However, some recent comments from Jim Schwartz suggests more than the names, faces and jersey numbers will be different.

Sept. 9, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end

Jason Jones

(90) reacts to the official during the fourth quarter against Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions signed Jason Jones as a free agent and Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has reported that Jones will take over the left defensive end position previously held by Avril.

That is an interesting tidbit considering Avril and Jones are not interchangeable pieces. Two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, Jones has the ability to line up inside while Avril was strictly a speed pass rusher.

What’s even more interesting is what the change in personnel means for the Lions and their use of the much-debated wide nine. Jones’ arrival as the new left defensive end suggests we’ll see more traditional four-man defensive fronts from the Lions next season. In fact, Birkett has a quote from Schwartz that indicates Avril’s presence may have been the largest factor in the team’s use of the wide nine in the past:

"“I think his (Jones) talents sort of stand alone,” Schwartz said. “And it’s more about just putting the players that we have in position to be able to make plays. We couldn’t do that with Cliff. That didn’t fit his skill set.“We put Cliff in what we thought was the best position for him to be effective and for him to help us. It didn’t necessarily put Nick Fairley or Ndamukong Suh in the best position. But that’s coaching. You just try to put guys in the best position that they can do.”"

The Lions did what they thought they had to do to be successful overall, even if it wasn’t in the best interest of some other individual players. That’s a shockingly honest statement from a head coach who usually keeps information under lock and key. It also goes to show why the Lions, and apparently no one else, was willing to break the bank on a new deal for Avril.

Initially it seemed that Willie Young might be poised to take over Avril’s spot. The Lions tendered him at the second-round level rather than original round – a sure sign they had big plans for him and didn’t want to risk another team stepping in with just a seventh round pick as compensation standing in the way. While Young is surely still in line for an increased role, it still may be as a situational pass rusher since he is not well-suited to take over for Vanden Bosch. Lawrence Jackson remains a free agent and would be a better fit considering his ability to play right defensive end and his familiarity with the team.

Jackson is just one option but it is clear the Lions still have a hole to fill at defensive end opposite Jones. Perhaps it will be another free agent or even a rookie. But at this point it sounds like whoever will start at right defensive end for the Lions is not currently on the roster.