Around The Lions In 15 Days: Defensive Tackle

Between Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams, the Detroit Lions could be a force in the interior.

Projected Starters: Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Sammie Lee Hill
The look can change depending on what Detroit's 4-3 defense is aiming to prevent, but regardless of it manifestation, the presence of Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams is a welcomed upgrade from last season. Interestingly, both Suh and Williams are capable of playing the 3-technique in the scheme, which is football code for 'Blow through the line and make sure there's a chalk outline of the quarterback when you stand back up.' Williams flourished in a similar system while in Green Bay, and struggled in a different role as a Brown. Suh, meanwhile, left college with a pedigree of wreaking havoc on what were undersized collegiate offensive linemen. He'll be asked to do the same in Detroit, and although his competition might be a bit larger, he earned the highest possible draft board grades by Detroit and just about every other team that evaluated him. Unlike Hill, he isn't considered a project, rather, an immediate force not to be taken lightly. Both tackles clear 600 pounds collectively, tower above the rest of the locker room, and will anchor the team's entire defense for the foreseeable future. 

Lions rookie DT Ndamukong Suh
AP Images

Projected Backups: Landon Cohen, Andre Fluellen
Each of these 2008 draftees earned valuable starting experience last year, and although they were somewhat productive (Fluellen garnered 1.5 sacks), they're better served as quality reserves. Because the Lions plan to manipulate the line frequently in 2010, Cohen, Fluellen, and last year's fourth-round pick, Sammie Lee Hill, will see plenty of minutes, and they should make the most of their time -- especially in training camp, considering there is no guarantee that Detroit will  even keep five defensive tackles. With that said, Cohen and Fluellen have demonstrated enough last season to earn the watchful eye of the team's coaching staff, despite being a touch smaller than their starting counterparts. However, if the team plans to trim at the defensive line, it will be one of the two. Hill played admirably as a rookie, starting 12 contests, but the 'project' label is wearing thin. He'll have to show significant improvement this season.

2009 Review
The interminable dross that was Detroit's defense has been well-documented, but another reason behind it's historic ineptitude can rest at the feet of Grady Jackson, the 37-year old veteran who wandered around for the better part of 13 starts in 2009. Jackson was paired with the inexperienced Hill, and the two held the visual of two NFL defensive linemen, but that was about it. Since Hill was saddled with high demands but low expectations, and Jackson's questionable tires wore thin early in the season, the interior struggled, the defensive ends became overworked, and linebackers were left scrambling in the middle of the field. Detroit allowed 127 rushing yards per game, and 4.4 yards per carry, numbers that would have undoubtedly been worse if opponents didn't have such an enjoyable time passing most games. Neither Jackson nor Hill collected a sack last year, and although that isn't unheard of for a starting defensive tackle, they also didn't register much penetration.
2010 Preview
Like most positions on the team, defensive tackle was retooled and, on paper, looks both exciting and improved. Suh was the odds-on favorite to be selected with the No. 2 overall pick, even after the Lions had acquired Williams via trade earlier in the off-season. The interior was clearly something head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham wanted to address, and they did exactly that. Because Suh's a rookie, and since rookie defensive linemen tend to struggle in their early years, he's a relative question mark. The Lions are hoping he'll buck that trend and dominate at the line (as many analysts expect), but there should be specific attention paid to Williams. Lest we forget, Williams accrued 14 sacks in 20 starts during his last two years in Green Bay (2006 and 2007), and is playing in a virtually identical role this campaign. For all intents and purposes, and assuming he hasn't forgotten how to play the game of football, Williams is the proven commodity and the dominant defensive tackle. And if a player whose nickname is "Kong" ends up his sidekick, well, it can only spell good things for Detroit football. 
I'd Much Rather Have ... Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, Minnesota
Minnesota has too much talent on its defense. What the Vikes' have accomplished is what Detroit is hoping to; establish two game-changing defensive tackles, a couple of talented defensive ends, and unleash fury on opposing offenses. The Lions are close, considering Minnesota's individual talents and their onfield exploits are also a direct result of their talented counterparts. But it all starts in the middle for the Vikings, with Kevin (311 lbs) and Pat Williams (315 lbs) anchoring the defense, while ensuring the Metrodome never blows away. They had eight sacks and nearly 80 tackles between the two of them last year, allowing Ray Edwards and Jared Allen to tee-off from each end. Detroit hopes their two tackles can do the same for Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril.
But They're Better Than ... Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams, Chicago Bears
Effort and injury concerns have affected Harris' reputation in Chicago, and there's no guarantee that he'll return to his All Pro form. His reserve, Henry Melton, doesn't concern anyone other than the team's own coaching staff. Adams, meanwhile, started eight games in 2009 and finished with two sacks. He's dependable, but will rely on Harris redeeming himself to find any kind of success. Opponents attacked Chicago mercilessly with the run 2009 and had success, but other than bringing aboard a pass rush specialist (Julius Peppers), the team has done nothing to guarantee it won't happen again. 
Confidence-o-Meter: 8.0
Giving Suh the benefit of the doubt, and assuming Williams can find his lost touch, Detroit should see a vast improvement in 2010 in its interior defense. It's difficult to find any flaws in how they've upgraded the defensive tackle position (although having the No. 2 overall pick doesn't hurt), and considering the importance of the 'trenches' in the National Football League, both Schwartz and team president Martin Mayhew should earn some accolades. Suh will anchor the defensive line for years, with Williams (29) along for the ride. Not since Shaun Rogers gave a consistent, 60-70% effort have the Lions posed much of a threat from the wall of its defense. In 2010, it could change everything.

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