If there has been any single rookie from Detroit's 2008 draft class that is quickly making a name for himself, it's defensive end Cliff Avril.
A third-round pick whom the Lions traded up to nab last April (Avril was a projected mid-to-late second rounder), Avril hasn't disappointed, living up to his status as an instinctive, athletic and fleet-footed defensive player.
"He's got the instincts. That's what I saw in college," said Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli, who continues to spend the bulk of his time during training camp with the defensive linemen. "That inside move, when to make it. He's showing that here, he's got some stuff. The one thing he can really do is his third step is extremely, he's flying full speed on his third step. Where I can keep helping him is that initial get-off. The initial get off. He really hits that as a home run, and his speed is really exceptional."
Avril has ran around several Lions' tackles since camp began, including first-round pick Gosder Cherilus. With two defensive end positions likely locked up (veterans Jared DeVries and Dewayne White), Avril will become exactly what the Lions envisioned when they nabbed the former Purdue linebacker-turned-DE: a third-down pass rush specialist that the struggling defense lacked in 2007.
Avril started all thirteen games at DE for the Boilermakers last year, recording 41 tackles and leading the team in sacks. Most impressive about those quarterback sacks, however, was that they amounted to a loss of over 40 yards. Fifteen of his stops led to a combined loss of 56 yards. He also caused four fumbles.
The idea is for Avril to bring that playmaking ability as a situational pass-rusher.
"Oh, big time," said Marinelli. "Especially, when those guys are a little bit leaner, and they're light, and in good condition, 4th quarter rushers. That's when the 4th quarter guys, who can come in, in shape, and smoke a 2 minute drill -- come out and get a sack, a sack fumble, end the game.
"That's when those guys are critical, and they're critical the whole game. Third down, that fresh guy coming in off the edge. (Avril's) got it; I mean he's got the stuff, now he's got to go do it. I think he's going to. I really like what I've seen so far."
But, Marinelli also cautioned, he doesn't want the 6-3, 253-pound Avril to become one-dimensional.
"I want to make a football player," said Marienlli. "He can really help us on 3rd down. I really believe he's going to be able to do that. But if you shoot seven linemen up or eight, you can't be a specialist, one guy goes down, he's a first down player.
"That's where he's got to do well and with kicking and all those things. I think he can really contribute, to answer your question, fast for us this year as a rusher."
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