Training Camp Battles: Defensive Line

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Returning to the training camp battles on the defensive side of the ball. I haven't been too happy with the discussion so far which accidentally became more of a biography than any kind of worthwhile analysis. The tepid response in The Den confirms my thoughts. Furthermore there have already been a couple of excellent discussions about the defense, both in The Den and elsewhere. This morning Den regular AtticusSpeaks went through a fairly in depth discussion of the entire roster. mickeyblu posted a link to a FoxSports discussion of the team, and finally there is already an extensive ongoing discussion of the defense in The Den, started by poster scottallen222 about the state of the defense. I'm not sure that I can add anything original in this space, so instead I will attempt a different tack while discussing the defense, and hopefully it will be a little more interesting than the prior articles.

Defensive Tackles

Probably the point of greatest concern by Lion observers of the entire roster, it is difficult to argue that the team has one legitimate starter at the position. Last season Detroit began the year with six defensive tackles on the roster, they are unlikely to have so many this year.

Grady Jackson. Little can be said about the guy that hasn't been said elsewhere. Long-time vet, he's the most legitimate of the tackles on the team. He played at a high level as recently as two years ago, but no longer has the legs to be a full time player. He should provide starter-level production when he is on the field. Chance to make the roster: 100%

Sammie Lee Hill. Rookie fourth rounder who has impressed so far. Raw and ideally would be used sparingly his rookie year, he may be thrown into the fire early. He and Jackson are the only two tackles with the bulk that Schwartz prefers. Chance to make the roster: 100%

Andre Fluellen. Spent more time at left end than at tackle his rookie year, and played fairly well, showing surprising pash-rush skill. One possibility might have him at end on running downs, moving inside on passing downs. Chance to make the roster: 100%

Chuck Darby. Long time vet set a career high in tackles in '08 but was widely blamed for the defective run defense of the '08 team. He's never carried a line and he isn't about to start, but he can still be effective as a rotational guy. Chance to make roster: 85%

Landon Cohen. Got regular rotation time the last half of '08. He's been ordered to gain weight and his effectiveness at a bigger size will determine whether he wins a spot. The lack of competition leans in his favor and since he accrued a year with Detroit I do not believe he is eligible for their practice squad. He has a good chance of making the team as a regular inactive. Chance to make roster: 75%

John Gill. UFA out of Northwestern, he had an impressive Pro Day showing good strength and quickness but he is not ready to contribute at the NFL level and seems practice squad bound. Rick Gosselin named him one of the sleepers of the draft, for what it's worth. Chance to make roster: 30%

Orien Harris. Strictly a look-see guy. He's been productive in training camps even while he's bounced around the league. If he sneaks on to the roster his spot would be tenuous, at best. Ongoing discussion about the Harris acquisition Here, while Ty provides some more detail Here. Chance to make roster: 15%

Defensive Ends

Dewayne White. The only ex-Buc that Marinelli demanded who actually worked out pretty well. Is the only secure starter on the defensive line. Chance to make roster: 100%

Cliff Avril. He got four starts last year but his strength at the point is still questionable and he may be more suitable as a two-down end, particularly since there are ends on the roster more suited to defending the run. Chance to make roster: 100%

Ikaika Alama-Francis. Call me an optimist but Francis has all of the tools to be a standout pro. He's ideally sized at end for Schwartz' bigger line and started to get his legs toward then end of '08 after washing out of his rookie year due to injury and inexperience. There is no way this guy should ever have been a 2nd round pick, but think of him as a developmental 5th rounder and he is right on pace. He has the strength to defend the run and the explosiveness to get up field on passing downs. I expect him to be a very regular contributer at both ends. Chance to make roster: 100%

Jared DeVries. Has only been a starter the last three seasons and remains more valuable as a reserve. Typical yeoman-type player who will fight hard but is fairly easily controlled by better tackles. His roster spot is probably dependent on whether Detroit signs Kevin Carter or not. Chance to make roster: 80%

Jason Hunter. Special teams ace for the Packers he also did a credible job filling a regular spot late in '08. Isn't the size that Schwartz looks for and is probably a special teamer for Detroit, but he should land a spot. Chance to make roster: 75%

Eric Hicks. Was a good end for Gunther Cunningham and Bob Karmelowicz for years before his career wound down in '07, and his last really productive season was '05. Karm thought enough of him to call him and offer his a shot, but these types of comebacks don't usually work out too well. Chance to make roster: 20%

Ryan Kees. UFA out of St. Cloud. Isn't NFL ready but he could force his way on to the roster due to lack of competition. Big framed developmental guy, ideally suited to a year on the practice squad. Chance to make roster: 5%

Rudolph Hardy. Spent most of his rookie season out of the NFL before being added to Detroit's practice squad late. Strictly training camp fodder who is playing for another practice squad gig. Chance to make roster: 1%

Detroit had enough bodies to field a defensive line, but most of those guys aren't terribly good, with only White approaching NFL-average performance at his position. Rome wasn't built in a day, and rebuilding this line might be tougher than slapping up the Parthenon. I still expect Detroit to add bodies, if not Kevin Carter then someone, but either way I will be surprised if there isn't a significant draft investment in the defensive line next spring.

I have a lot of important drinking to do tomorrow, so the next installment may be delayed until Friday. Meanwhile discuss it Here in The Den