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Monday, July 21, 2014
Detroit Lions camp preview: Defensive line

By Michael Rothstein

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder: Unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.

Position: Defensive line

Starter: Open end -- Ezekiel Ansah; Closed End – Jason Jones; Tackles -- Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley

Depth (in training camp): Ends -- Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp, Larry Webster, George Johnson, Kalonji Kashama. Tackles -- C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid, Andre Fluellen, Gregory Hickman, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Xavier Proctor.

Likely roster spots: Ends -- four; tackles -- four or five.

Nick Fairley
A trimmer Nick Fairley comes off a season in which he posted six sacks.
What to expect in camp: One of the bigger storylines of Detroit Lions camp -- and the season -- until it occurs will be Suh’s contract situation. Until he signs a new deal or says he is not going to, it will be one of the most important focal points of the year for the Lions. That is the main off-the-field piece for Detroit.

On the field, there will be a lot to expect. Figure Ansah to finally work his way into his starting defensive end spot after missing all of spring workouts as he recovered from shoulder surgery. The most interesting competition of the camp will be at closed defensive end, where Jones and Taylor will likely be fighting for a starting role.

The situation at tackle will be set, as Suh and Fairley will occupy starting spots and Mosley will be the team’s third tackle. Most of the main competition will be behind those three, as fifth-round pick Reid will compete with veterans and former practice squad players for spots on the 53-man roster.

At end, the top three players are set and Webster is the likely fourth option at end after the team used a fourth-round pick on the developmental project. Where it could become interesting is if the Lions’ defensive staff believes both Taylor and Jones have the capability to play inside as well as out and if Suh can start playing outside some as well as inside. If that flexibility exists -- and it very well could -- don’t be shocked if the Lions keep the best possible defensive line players instead of a certain amount of ends and tackles.

Having enough players who can be effective at both spots should open up the entire defense to more flexibility throughout the year.

What Detroit needs to see: This begins with Fairley. The defensive tackle showed a slimmed-down version of himself during offseason workouts, allowing him to both feel better about himself and also play better and longer at a smarter weight for him. He has been gone for six weeks, though, and he needs to show he is back in town in the same shape in which he left. If he does that, it is a good sign for the Lions.

The team also could use growth from the two rookies they drafted on the line -- Reid and Webster. Both are going to likely have roster spots -- Reid because of his special teams capabilities, and Webster due to where they drafted him -- so they have to be able to contribute in certain areas. Neither one was used much with the first two teams during spring workouts, but that needs to change in camp.

Detroit also needs to see a healthy Ansah. He battled various injuries throughout his rookie year, including a preseason concussion, and he has to be able to produce for Detroit to have the effectiveness it hopes to have on the defensive line. He is a major piece to any defensive success the team has this fall.