Position summary: The off-season release of veteran tackle Dan Wilkinson created an impact on the Lions' defensive front four. But the extent of that impact, whether positive or negative, won't be determined until second-year tackle Shaun Cody steps onto the field.
Cody (6'4, 293) is strong, athletic and quick off the snap and will be relied upon to take advantage of one-on-one match-ups with the opposing guard. If he can produce beside Rogers (he has no reason not to), Detroit's 4-3 defense within the 'Tampa 2' scheme will be much more effective. But if Cody's inexperience is exploited and he is swallowed by offensive linemen, the Lions may have to consider the less agile Marcus Bell or aging Tyoka Jackson -- neither of which are stellar options. Cory Redding could also be a possibility, but regardless, the Lions are hedging their bets on the former USC standout.
Shaun Rogers will again anchor Detroit's
defensive front four in 2006N
Rogers, meanwhile, enters his sixth year following a second-consecutive Pro Bowl campaign. Interesting, he was considered an underperformer in 2005 despite registering a career-best 5.5 sacks, but will have a fire planted squarely under his behind by head coach and defensive line enthusiast Rod Marinelli along with coordinator Donnie Henderson. Similar to last season, Detroit will remain in a 4-3 scheme, but "Big Baby" will be asked to man the "two-gap" mode that Wilkinson patrolled -- making him responsible for two offensive lineman and shutting down the opposition's running game.
The keyword with Rogers has always been potential, and while he is considered the team's best player, the bulk of his capability remains untapped. He will be forced to exercise all of his talent -- and effort -- in 2006.
Bell is an interesting talent and will again play an integral role of the team's defensive line rotation. He played in 15 games last season. Jackson joins Detroit as a well-traveled, reserve lineman with 11 years of NFL experience -- 10 of which was spent between Marinelli in Tampa and offensive coordinator Mike Martz in St. Louis. If Jackson was starting material, he would have done so by now, but is nonetheless capable of being a regular in the rotation.
The problem at the defensive end position in Detroit isn't production, necessarily. It is the need for consistent production -- from both ends.
Five-year veteran Kalimba Edwards faced a make-or-break year in 2005 and responded with a career (and team) best seven sacks in just two starts. The Lions rewarded him with a multi-year, multimillion-dollar deal, and now the former second round pick must live up to his second career contract. Either Edwards duplicates (or improves upon) his production last year, or he'll again earn the 'inconsistent' label that has plagued him most of his career.
Edwards will likely supplant Redding, a two-year starter, because of his speed and an aggressive approach that lines nicely with the style of Henderson. Still, Redding is a capable run-stuffer and will see plenty of time at both defensive end and at tackle.
Former University of Michigan standout James Hall will also attempt to shake a bit of inconsistency and return to his 2004 form. After leading the team with a career-high 11.5 sacks that year, Hall struggled throughout last season while dealing with groin injury. He started all 14 of the games in which he played but managed just five sacks. Hall isn't expected to match his '04 production, necessarily, but needs to become the every down workhorse that made him a welcomed roster addition after joining the team as an undrafted free-agent in 2000.
If Hall and Edwards are able to play to their potential in 2006, Detroit's line play will keep the team competitive deep into the season and the credit will be handed swiftly to a defensive-minded coaching staff. But if the two regress, everyone will wonder why the Lions avoided the acquisition of a starting defensive end during the off-season.
Reserve end Jared DeVries will enjoy his eighth year in a Lion uniform. The former Iowa Hawkeye stood-out during the team's off-season activity programs, displaying the intensity and hard work that reflects everything Marinelli desires in his players. DeVries is a suitable back-up, and can even be an adequate, versatile starter if called upon. Bill Swancutt, a late-round choice a year ago, takes that same yeoman-approach but possesses more speed than DeVries around the end.
Cleveland Pinkney and Damian Gregory have nine years of NFL experience between them, but will be hard-pressed to land a spot on the 53-man roster. The same applies to first-year player Claude Harriott, who is more of a developmental prospect. Harriott would qualify for Detroit's practice squad.