Detroit Lions: Young defenders getting rare opportunity to shine

Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions have several defensive linemen sidelined due to various reasons. That’s granting rare opportunities for unproven defenders to shine.

The Detroit Lions figure to field one of the most talented front seven groups in the entire NFL this upcoming season. Several major additions have been made to this defense front in recent months. The biggest being the signing of two free agents in two-time Super Bowl-winner defensive end Trey Flowers and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Mike Daniels.

Combined with Damon Harrison, an All-Pro defensive tackle that was acquired during a midseason trade last year, the Lions’ now possess one of the most talented positional groups they’ve had in years.

It’s a far cry from last season when questions about Lions’ defensive linemen like Ezekiel Ansah, Kerry Hyder Jr., Ricky Jean-Francois, Sylvester Williams, A’Shawn Robinson, and an unknown Romeo Okwara were abundant.

Unfortunately, we have yet to see this new unit play altogether through the beginning of training camp. Harrison is currently on the non-football injury list after skipping OTAs and minicamp in a contract dispute. Flowers is still recovering from shoulder surgery that he had in the offseason. And Daniels just signed with Detroit on Friday.

Throw in a left arm injury suffered by last year’s surprising rookie Da’Shawn Hand on Sunday, and the fact Robinson is currently out due to personal reasons, and the Lions’ roster of available defensive lineman looks more like the cast from The Walking Dead.

Yet, these absences grant more opportunities for young, unproven defenders to shine. And they have. According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, two defensive linemen, in particular, have caught his eye. They are former New Orleans Saints’ defender Mitchell Loewen and undrafted rookie Kevin Strong.

While Loewen made some noticeable plays against first, second, and third teamers on Saturday, it was Strong who made the biggest impression on Sunday according to Birkett.

"“Strong tore through the first-team offensive line with a nice blitz during one 11-on-11 period, but where he really excelled was in one-on-one pass-rush drills. While the Lions’ offensive line dominated the drill overall, Strong was the most effective of the defensive linemen.”"

Undrafted out of the University of Texas at San Antonio, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Strong used to play for Lions’ current defensive line coach Bo Davis. During his senior season with the Roadrunners, he recorded 24 combined tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a sack in 12 games. He posted a career-high 3.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss as a junior.

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At some point, the Detroit Lions will have their full arsenal of defensive weapons at their disposal. In the meantime, these early absences will allow some inexperience defenders to get some much-needed reps. And who knows? Maybe someone like Kevin Strong will shine bright enough to crack the final-53 man roster because of it.