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Justin Vanfulpen - LionsFans.com
Last season going in to training camp, the Lions didn't even know when their top defensive end would even show up, that is because Robert Porcher and the team were locked into a contract dispute. So, in turn, with coming into camp late, Porcher, a two-time Pro Bowl player, only managed to get 8. 5 sacks last season -- his lowest total in 5 years. But Porcher has promised the new Lions team management that he'll return to his high level of play, and earn the big money contract he obtained.
Tracy Scroggins started last year strong, but faded toward the end, recording just two sacks in the final 10 games of the season. Scroggins didn't find the kind of money that he thought he should have received as a free agent, but in the end did re-sign with the Lions -- but not before considering retirement. It will be interesting to see what happens to his starting job because back-up James Hall has had a great off-season. Hall, a former Wolverine and undrafted rookie free-agent last-season, has improved his strength so he can hold up against the run better and has worked on his pass rushing moves as well. Another back-up defensive end is Jared DeVries, but he does have some question marks now because of a blood clot. Last season was DeVries' actual first year, since his rookie season was spent on injured reserve. Last year in training camp, DeVries filled in admirably while Robert Porcher was holding out, but he needs to find his role in the defense end rotation. Something that will help the entire defensive line is new assistant coach Charles Haley, one of the NFL premier pass rushers in the late '80s and early '90s. In the off-season, many Lion players have had nothing but good things to say about Haley and his techniques, and how much he has improved their game, respectively. The Lions' best defensive tackle is Luther Elliss, who went to his second straight Pro Bowl last year but didn't have as a productive season in 2000 that he did in 1999.
Elliss can rush the passer and play the run with the best of them, and each team that the Lions face is forced to double team him so that he doesn't blow the pocket up on very play. James Jones' play fell off in 2000 from 1999 more so then Elliss did, but he is a very good run-stopping tackle that has limited passing rushing ability, but he is a very good and valuable player to the defense. Even with both Elliss and Jones modifying their contracts this off-season, the Lions still have a lot of money tied up in their starting defensive tackles, so both Jones and Elliss must prove to the Lions new management that they are too valuable to replace. The Lions traded up to draft rookie defensive end Shawn Rogers in the second round because he was considered to be a top 15 pick before he suffered a serious ankle injury early in his senior season. His ankle has significantly improved and he should be ready to participate sparingly during training camp, and could be a force in the middle when he is healthy. Kelvin Pritchett has re-signed and gives the Lions some depth at the defensive tackle position, because of that Travis Kirschke is now a long shot to make the team, but he is a solid inside player. He needs to have a great training camp and make a huge impact to make the team. Sean Powell, who was in NFL Europe, showed some abilities over seas but like Kirschke, he is a long shot to make the team. A few guys that could have a good camp and land themselves on the practice squad are defensive end Matt Childers, an undrafted rookie from USC who is 6-4 and 280 pounds, but needs to work on his pass rushing moves. Undrafted rookie defensive end Anthony Herron from Iowa has good size and some ability, so he is someone to watch. Defensive tackle Toby Golliday, who is an undrafted rookie from Mississippi State, has great size and weighs all most 330 pounds so he is a load on the inside, keep your eye on Golliday this training camp and in the pre-season.
The defense is what saved the Lions in many games last season and middle linebacker Stephen Boyd was the leader. He was voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl and if he continues to keep his play up at a high level, he should be back to Honolulu after this season due to his hard work and exceptional instincts. Currently, Boyd is the Lions' most productive overall linebacker, but the past few season he has been bothered by injuries. This could be a break out season for third-year pro Chris Claiborne, who could take over and become a major threat at the linebacker position. Claiborne always has loved to hit and punish opponents but now he is maturing and learning the game better -- which should help develop him into a complete player. Claiborne does lack great speed, but he is very quick and possesses excellent skills and instincts. Claiborne is a force against the run, but needs to develop more in the passing game, because his man-to-man pass covering skills are lacking. The other starting linebacker is Allen Aldridge. Aldridge has good size and plays the run very well, but like Claiborne, can struggle in his man-to-man pass covering skills. The Lions would like to upgrade the speed at his position, but it will be hard to get Aldridge out of the starting linebacker core. Last year, second round pick Barrett Green never lived up to his billing as a pass covering, speedy outside linebacker. Green had an ankle injury in training camp last season and that did slow his progress down. He has excellent speed, and should be a force in pass coverage. New coach Marty Mornhinweg has high hopes for Green, and will give him a lot of looks in training camp and the pre-season so he can prove what he can do. Veteran Scott Kowalkowski has proven to be very valuable back up because he can play all three linebackers spots, he also is a valuable special team's player as well. He doesn't have great size or speed, but he play all out and some how get the job done. Rookie Jason Glenn who was drafted in the seventh round has shown some ability in the past mini-camps. He will need to show that he can be both a back-up linebacker as well as being a force on special teams. Clint Kriewaldt has been on the team for the past few seasons and really is going to have to show that he is a player that can not be replaced. He is a good special teams' player who also played some in the nickel packages last season. He has very good speed, but needs to show more then that to make the team. Joe O'Neill was a player in NFL Europe this past spring, but for him to make the opening game roster will be nearly impossible. Some players that might make the practice squad with a great training camp include Darrell Robinson, an undrafted rookie from Oregon State who has good speed and some pass coverage skills. Robinson will see some time in the preseason, where the coaching staff will get a look at him. Wayne Rogers, an undrafted rookie from Houston, looks to be a good special teams' player because he goes all out on both kickoff and punt coverage. Andre Offing is an undrafted rookie from South Carolina. b