Detroit Lions: Andre Fluellen

The offseason workouts have concluded and with players and coaches about six weeks away from the start of training camp, one last rest and individualized training period will commence.

After a month of workouts, though, there have been some players who have made cases for potential roster spots in the fall and others who did not help themselves nearly as much.

Just like the start of the spring workouts, here is a look at the Detroit defensive and special teams depth chart -- along with a post-minicamp guess at the 53-man roster that could end up being the Lions' team in the fall. Remember, a lot can change between now and then.

Changes from our May defensive prediction are in parentheses. The offensive roster prediction lives here.

DEFENSIVE END:

Starters: Ezekiel Ansah (open); Jason Jones (closed)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp, Larry Webster, George Johnson, Kalonji Kashama.

Thoughts: Ansah didn’t practice this spring but he is a starter and should have a good year. Jones started to look healthier and will likely be pushed by Taylor throughout camp. Taylor may end up winning the job. Tapp is a good veteran and Webster is raw. Really raw.

Roster locks: Ansah, Jones, Taylor. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ansah, Jones, Taylor, Tapp, Webster. (Webster up from practice squad)

DEFENSIVE TACKLE:

Starters: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley.

Backups: C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid, Andre Fluellen, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Greg Hickman.

Thoughts: The Lions cut a lot of marginal veteran weight here during the spring and really somewhat set their defensive tackle depth chart. Suh and Fairley, at least in the spring, look like they could be the dominant pairing the Lions wanted the past few seasons. Both Jones and Taylor can play inside, so that gives the Lions flexibility.

Roster locks: Suh, Fairley, Mosley (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Suh, Fairley, Mosley, Reid, Proctor (practice squad) (Add Proctor to practice squad)

LINEBACKER:

Starters: DeAndre Levy (weak side); Stephen Tulloch (middle); Kyle Van Noy (strong side)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford, Cory Greenwood, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson.

Thoughts: The starters are pretty set here with the two veterans and the rookie, Van Noy. Palmer will end up playing his way onto the team, but watch for Whitehead here. He is a potential candidate to push for playing time or at least be a stable backup in the middle. The last spot here could be between Stanford and Lewis for a mainly special-teams spot. In this version, I cut both Stanford and Lewis in favor of a sixth cornerback, but could easily see that changing by the time the next roster projection is done before camp.

Roster locks: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy, Palmer, Whitehead, Hepburn (practice squad). (Jackson off practice squad, Palmer to the 53-man roster).

CORNERBACK:

Starters: Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis (Chris Houston off team).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn, Chris Greenwood, Nevin Lawson, Jonte Green, Aaron Hester, Mohammed Seisay.

Thoughts: The release of Houston opens up this competition and a roster spot for another cornerback, potentially. Slay and Mathis are likely starters here with everyone else fighting for time and, other than Lawson, a roster spot. It’ll be one of the toughest battles of camp. This was one of the toughest cuts I had to make.

Roster locks: Slay, Mathis, Lawson. (Add Mathis, subtract Houston)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Vaughn, Lawson, Greenwood, Seisay (practice squad). (Houston, Green off; Seisay on practice squad).

SAFETY:

Starters: Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Don Carey, Isa Abdul-Quddus, DeJon Gomes, Jerome Couplin, Gabe Lynn.

Thoughts: The Lions are good with their top three safeties in Quin, Ihedigbo and Carey. Carey can play both nickel and corner in an emergency, which makes him imminently valuable for the Lions. Abdul-Quddus and Gomes might be competing for one roster spot and that should be an intense battle throughout camp. Between these two was the last cut I made. Initially had both making the roster until the end.

Roster locks: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, Abdul-Quddus, Couplin (practice squad)

KICKER:

Starter: Nate Freese

Backup: Giorgio Tavecchio

Thoughts: Still Freese's job to lose, but this might be a tougher competition than anticipated. Tavecchio has the stronger leg and if he can add consistency, he’ll win the gig. Otherwise, it’s Freese’s. Right now, it’s a toss-up.

Roster locks: None.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Freese.

PUNTER:

Starter: Sam Martin

Backups: None.

Thoughts: None. It’s Martin.

Roster locks: Martin.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Martin.

LONG-SNAPPER:

Starter: Don Muhlbach.

Backups: Jordan Thompson.

Thoughts: None. Barring injury, Muhlbach will be the team’s long-snapper.

Roster locks: Muhlbach.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Muhlbach.
The Lions, lying in wait for this new year ...

Defensive tackle Andre Fluellen has spent the large part of his career bouncing between the Detroit Lions and not being on a team. So when he ended up as a free agent again after the 2013 season, he once again hoped to be returning for yet another stint with the Lions.

It took a few weeks after free agency started, but eventually Fluellen was brought back for yet another round with Detroit.

"When I first talked to Coach [Jim] Caldwell, I really just enjoyed the conversation just first as a person and then as a football coach," Fluellen said Monday. "Just felt like, I've been here long enough, it's just kind of home, my second home. So I really wanted to come back and when they gave me the opportunity, that was exciting.

"I didn't tell them that, how excited I was. But I was excited to be back here."

Fluellen said other teams reached out to him, but he had already decided he wanted to return to Detroit if that was an option, which it ended up being. Mostly a rotational player, Fluellen had three tackles last season.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Players roamed through the Detroit Lions practice facility Monday afternoon during the first day of the offseason workout program, some meeting with coaches, others having their hands scanned for access to certain restricted areas of the building.

And on this mostly clerical day, a lot of players chose to show up. At least one did not.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is entering the final season of his contract, was not at the team's opening meeting according to wide receiver Jeremy Ross. That Suh wasn't in attendance should not be a major cause for concern, though, as Suh often works out meticulously on his own and has not shown up at the facility for workouts other times in the past.

Players, though, don't seem concerned about other players not being in attendance.

"As long as everybody is getting better, where ever they are at, it doesn't necessarily matter," defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. "It's just all about helping the team and some people may have another way that they feel like they can help the team. So as long as it's helping the team, it doesn't matter."

One player who was in attendance, though, was his partner on the defensive line, Nick Fairley.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said at the owner's meetings last month the team would not pick up Fairley's fifth-year option and that he was hoping this would be motivation for the former first round pick to have a strong 2014. As the defensive tackle hustled out of the facility past reporters, he looked somewhat leaner than he did last season.

The Lions couldn't do much on their first day in Allen Park, though. They had a meeting with new head coach Jim Caldwell that backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky deemed "good."

Ross said Caldwell focused on his vision and his goals along with building team chemistry during his chat with the team. Some of those goals were obvious, like winning games and both the NFC and Super Bowl.

"This is what is essential to be able to get there, like team chemistry and building with each other," Ross said. "Limited penalties, limited mistakes. Pretty much the common spiel."

The players were also able to get a workout in and most were out of the facility by the middle of the day.

"Just kind of being together," defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. "It's kind of different working out on your own and being here together. That's pretty much the only thing. Hopefully the ones that may or may not have been here I'm sure will be here shortly."
The Detroit Lions are continuing to add depth and rotational players to their defensive line.

Fluellen
According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, the Lions have re-signed defensive tackle Andre Fluellen, who has bounced on-and-off the team since being drafted by Detroit in 2008.

Fluellen has played in 69 games in his NFL career -- 67 of them for Detroit -- including 13 last season. He made three tackles last season and has 54 in his career. He also has 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

This is the third defensive line signing for Detroit in this free-agency period, joining Vaughn Martin and Darryl Tapp. The Lions lost Willie Young to Chicago in free agency.

Fluellen had been the fourth member of the defensive tackle rotation last season, behind Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley. He had a cap number of $457,059 last season and a base salary of $715,000.

Fluellen is the third player the team has re-signed since the start of the new league year, joining Brandon Pettigrew and Kevin Ogletree.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

To see the Meet the Free Agents series thus far, click this link.

Free agent to be: Andre Fluellen

Position: Defensive tackle

Age: 28

Years in the league: 6

What he made last season: $457,059 (cap value); $588,824 (cash value); $715,000 (base salary).

What he did last season: Fluellen played a reserve role after joining the Lions following the season-ending injury to Jason Jones. In 13 games, Fluellen made three tackles. He averaged 12.1 snaps a game in relief of starting tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

His potential market value: Little. He’s a good locker room guy and someone who can be a player that can be brought in at the veteran minimum to whatever team, but he likely won’t be getting more than that from any of the NFL teams.

Will he fit the Lions still: General manager Martin Mayhew didn’t rule out a potential return for Fluellen, but the market for him is not high and the team can wait to see what other options are out there that might be more effective than Fluellen has been in his career, where he has 55 tackles in 69 games and 2.5 career sacks -- although none since 2010.

What happens: Fluellen won’t be a high priority free agent for Detroit, but he would likely still be available for the team should they choose to bring him back after exploring other options. He has spent the majority of his career with the Lions and continually returns to the team after being released. As mentioned before, he is a good character guy who can provide a good influence to both Fairley and Suh in the locker room, along with the other younger defensive linemen the team has brought in over the past few years. If he does return, it likely won’t be until a bit later in free agency.
Recruiting has been deemed a completely inexact proposition seemingly forever. Guys who are highly rated don't pan out. Guys who were walk-ons turn into NFL players and, sometimes, stars.

So as teams across the country sign players Wednesday, here's a look back at where the Detroit Lions were ranked when they were high school seniors. For rankings from 2006 forward, the rankings used are ESPN's rankings. From 2002 to 2006, we used the Rivals.com rankings.

In some cases, no rankings were available. If something is not denoted as coming from another site, it is ESPN's ranking from that year.
What you'll see is most of Detroit's players were not highly rated players coming out of high school. Some had no ranking at all. Just goes to show how blue chip recruits in high school don't always turn into top-level college or NFL players.

This post covers the defense and special teams. This post from earlier took care of the offense.

Defensive linemen:
  • Suh
    Ndamukong Suh (2005): Rated as the No. 6 defensive tackle by Rivals.com and the No. 51 player overall. Signed with Nebraska.
  • Nick Fairley (2007): Rated as the No. 31 offensive tackle. Signed with Auburn but went to Copiah-Lincoln Community College for two years before heading to Auburn.
  • Willie Young (2004): Rated as the No. 14 defensive end by Rivals.com. Signed with N.C. State and went to Hargrave Military Academy in 2004 before going to N.C. State in 2005. Was the No. 18 prep school player in the country in the Class of 2005.
  • Ziggy Ansah (2008): Not rated in ESPN's database. Not surprising considering he went to BYU from Ghana. He tried out for basketball, was on the track team in 2009 and started playing football in 2010. His story is documented here from colleague Ohm Youngmisuk.
  • Devin Taylor (2008): Rated as the No. 69 defensive end in his class and No. 21 player in South Carolina. Signed with South Carolina.
  • Jason Jones (2004): Not rated by Rivals.com, but was labeled a two-star prospect by the service. Signed with Eastern Michigan.
  • C.J. Mosley (2001): Not in Tom Lemming's Top 100 for 2001 but Missouri's website says Mosley was one of the top 55 defensive line prospects in the country in 2001. Signed with Missouri.
  • Andre Fluellen (2003): Rated as the No. 28 defensive tackle in the country and No. 22 player in Georgia his year. Signed with Florida State.
  • Israel Idonije (2000): Played football at Manitoba in Canada.
  • Xavier Proctor (2008): He was not rated by either service in 2008 and signed with North Carolina Central. Here's an interesting story about his past from the Baltimore Sun.
  • Jimmy Saddler-McQueen (2005 or 2006): No information is available on Saddler-McQueen. He signed with Texas A&M-Kingsville, where he played from 2006 to 2009.
Linebackers:
  • Stephen Tulloch (2003): Rated as the No. 28 inside linebacker in his class and No. 51 player in Florida by Rivals.com. Signed with N.C. State.
  • Levy
    DeAndre Levy (2005): Rated as the No. 49 outside linebacker in his class and the No. 4 player in Wisconsin by Rivals.com. Signed with Wisconsin.
  • Ashlee Palmer (2006): Information on Palmer's recruitment is confusing. Was unranked in the Class of 2007 by ESPN. He was the No. 38 junior college player in the class of 2006 by Rivals.com as a safety. He initially signed with Nebraska out of high school, then signed with Washington out of Compton Community College before landing at Mississippi. There are some nuggets about Palmer's recruiting saga in this Scout.com story.
  • Rocky McIntosh (2001): Rated as the No. 15 linebacker in the nation by SuperPrep according to the Miami (Fla.) website, where he signed.
  • Tahir Whitehead (2008): Not ranked as a safety out of high school. Signed with Temple.
  • Julian Stanford (2008): Not rated by either service in 2008. Signed with Wagner.
  • Brandon Hepburn (2008): Not rated by either service in 2008. Signed with Florida A&M.
  • Travis Lewis (2007): Rated as the No. 79 running back in the country by ESPN and No. 20 outside linebacker by Rivals.com. Signed with Oklahoma.
  • Cory Greenwood (2006): Played football in Canada.
Defensive backs:
  • Delmas
    Louis Delmas (2005): Not rated by Rivals.com, but was a two-star recruit. Signed with Western Michigan.
  • Glover Quin (2006): Not rated by either service out of Southwest Mississippi Community College in 2006. More interesting -- both Rivals and ESPN had his name spelled at Glover Quinn with two "n's" in their bios.
  • Rashean Mathis (1998 or 1999): Mathis broke his leg his senior year at Englewood High School according to Jacksonville.com, costing him high Division I scholarships. He ended up at Bethune-Cookman. No recruiting information exists about him.
  • Chris Houston (2003): Rated as the No. 32 cornerback in his class and No. 66 player in Texas by Rivals.com. Signed with Arkansas.
  • Darius Slay (2009): Rated as the No. 109 safety and No. 76 player in Georgia in 2009. Signed with Mississippi State but went to Itawamba Community College before re-signing with Mississippi State in 2011, when he was unrated.
  • Don Carey (2005): Not rated as a safety by Rivals.com in his class. Signed with Norfolk State.
  • Bill Bentley (2008): Went from Pahokee, Fla. to Dodge City Community College. Didn't play there, but signed with Louisiana. Was not rated by ESPN.
  • Jonte Green (2007): Not rated out of high school by either service. Signed with Benedict College before transferring to New Mexico State.
  • Chris Greenwood (2007): Not rated out of high school. Went to Division II Northwood and then Division III Albion.
  • DeJon Gomes (2007): Not rated out of high school. Attended City College of San Francisco and then Nebraska in 2009. He was not rated then, either.
  • John Wendling (2002): Not rated as a running back out of high school by Rivals.com. Two-star recruit. Signed with Wyoming.
  • Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (2006): Not rated as a running back. Signed with Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania and had an interesting recruiting story in Sports Illustrated.
Specialists:
Mel Kiper Jr. took a look at what the 2008 draft might have looked like had the teams had the knowledge about certain players that they now possess.

Hindsight always looks a lot better -- or is what gets coaches and general managers fired -- but in the Lions' case, they didn't do too poorly in the 2008 draft. The one caveat here is that Kiper went with best player available, not biggest need.

Even so, in Kiper's redraft, he still had Detroit taking an offensive lineman at No. 17, just as the team did in 2008. But instead of taking Gosder Cherilus, Kiper has Detroit taking tackle Duane Brown, who was taken at No. 26 by Houston in 2008.

Here's what Kiper wrote about Brown:

"When he was a freshman at Virginia Tech, the athletic Brown was a tight end, but he ended up at tackle and ultimately also in the first round. He's been very good in Houston, playing at an All Pro level in 2012 and making 89 starts through his first six seasons, all at left tackle. His athleticism has been particularly useful in Houston's zone-blocking scheme."

Here's where it gets interesting. Down at No. 26, where Houston selects, Kiper had the Texans taking ... Cherilus. So the Lions still took what Kiper believes in a first-rounder in 2014, just a little bit higher than they did at the time.

One other interesting tidbit that shows Detroit might have had a decent 2008 draft. Cliff Avril, who the Lions took at pick No. 92 in the third round, was taken at No. 20 by Tampa Bay in his redraft.

Of course, neither Cherilus nor Avril are with Detroit any longer.

To see Kiper's entire redraft, check it out here.

And if you're curious, here's Detroit's 2008 draft class:

Round 1 -- Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
Round 2 -- Jordon Dizon, LB, Colorado
Round 3 -- Kevin Smith, RB, Central Florida
Round 3 -- Andre Fluellen, DT, Florida State
Round 3 -- Cliff Avril, DE, Purdue
Round 5 -- Kenneth Moore, WR/PR, Wake Forest
Round 5 -- Jerome Felton, FB, Furman
Round 7 -- Landon Cohen, DT, Ohio
Round 7 -- Caleb Campbell, LB, Army

As far as how those players panned out:

Cherilus has played in 91 games since he was drafted by Detroit, the first five seasons with the Lions and then this season with the Colts.

Dizon is out of the NFL. He played two seasons with the Lions and had 57 tackles and one sack. He injured his knee in 2010, was placed on injured reserve and was released in 2011.

Smith played five seasons with Detroit with 598 carries for 2,346 yards and 22 touchdowns. He did not play in the NFL this season.

Fluellen has bounced in and out of the league, including spending most of this season with Detroit. He has played in 69 games, making 55 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Avril left Detroit after last season in free agency, signing with Seattle. He's played in 88 games, making 185 tackles, 47.5 sacks and has forced 21 fumbles. He became expendable when the Lions drafted Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor in 2013 and felt Willie Young was ready for the next step.

Moore ended up on Detroit's practice squad his rookie year before being signed by Carolina midway through the 2008 season. Moore then played with Carolina, Indianapolis and was briefly with Pittsburgh. The Charlotte Observer caught up with him in July, 2013, for this pretty strong piece.

Felton just finished up his second season with the Vikings. He played three years with the Lions, one split between the Colts and Panthers and then the past two in Minnesota. He has 42 carries for 136 yards and 43 catches for 352 yards in his career.

Cohen has been with five NFL teams, playing his first 20 games with Detroit before playing with New England, Jacksonville, New England again, Dallas and Chicago. He spent this season split between the Cowboys and Bears.

Campbell first had to serve in the Army and was eventually signed by the Lions in 2010, where he made three tackles. He then was on the practice squads for a couple of other teams, but is now out of football. He does, though, have this website.
While the Detroit Lions are focusing on their coaching search, there are a number of Detroit players who don’t know if they will be returning to the Lions later this year.

Some of them are under contract, but many others are free agents. And while a new coaching staff will almost certainly dictate some, if not all, of these personnel decisions, here’s a quick look at Detroit’s free agents.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll go more in-depth on some of these potential decisions.

QB Shaun Hill (UFA): Hill said he would be open to a return, but with the Lions' cap space an issue -- as of now Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh are eating up $8 million or more each -- having an experienced backup like Hill might not be an option. Depending on who the new coach is, he could look to bring in a player familiar with his system. For example, if it is Ken Whisenhunt, Charlie Whitehurst is a free agent after the season.

RB Joique Bell (RFA): Bell broke out this season and has indicated he would like to return to Detroit, a place he considers home. It would be very surprising to see Bell anywhere but with the Lions next season.

WR Kris Durham (RFA): Durham doesn’t cost a lot of money and is a comfortable option for Stafford. Since Stafford will be enduring the first coaching change of his career, it makes sense to at least keep Durham, who had a more defined role this season, around.

WR Kevin Ogletree (UFA): Ogletree was signed in the middle of the season after Tampa Bay released him and played a nominal role for Detroit. In his most extensive playing time, he had five catches for 75 yards. He could be a question mark to return.

WR Micheal Spurlock (UFA): Spurlock was released once the Lions found Jeremy Ross as a capable returner and brought him back to handle special teams issues the last week of the season. It’d be very surprising to see him in Detroit next year.

TE Brandon Pettigrew (UFA): One of the more interesting cases for Detroit -- and something I’ll get into more later this week -- but he is a good multi-purpose tight end and his blocking is often overshadowed by his sometimes questionable hands in open spaces. He was a critical piece to Detroit’s rushing success this season and will be an interesting call for the Lions.

C Dominic Raiola (UFA): The veteran has spent his whole career in Detroit, had the best year of his career this past season and has indicated a strong desire to return. The Lions do not have an obvious option at center to replace Raiola, either.

OT Jason Fox (UFA): The emergence of LaAdrian Waddle as the right tackle of the future as well as having Corey Hilliard under contract likely makes Fox expendable, but his is a situation worth watching.

OG Dylan Gandy (UFA): Detroit is likely set at guard with Rob Sims and Larry Warford, but this decision could be based on who the next coach is (as, truthfully, almost all of them will be).

DE Willie Young (UFA): Already wrote a little bit about Young’s free agent situation, and there’s a chance he might not have a home in Detroit with the Lions committed contractually to Ziggy Ansah, Devin Taylor and Jason Jones at end already. Young will definitely test the free agent market to see what is out there.

DE Israel Idonije (UFA): Idonije provided a good veteran presence this season and had a low cap number for a veteran last season, but whomever the new coaching staff is will have to make a decision to pursue Idonije. He is coming off one of the least productive seasons of his career.

DT Andre Fluellen (UFA): He has had what feels like multiple stints with Detroit already and could be brought back for depth purposes. It might depend what Detroit’s new staff thinks of Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, who was on the practice squad all season. Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley are already signed for next season here.

LB Rocky McIntosh (UFA): Another veteran who was brought in now is potentially in a logjam as the only Lions linebacker not under contract for next season. Considering there’s a thought Detroit might draft a linebacker or two in May, his time might be over with the Lions.

CB Rashean Mathis (UFA): He came in as a late signing in the middle of the preseason but emerged as a starter when healthy for Detroit this season and doubled as a mentor to Darius Slay. Mathis indicated to ESPN.com he would like to play one or two more seasons in the NFL. His status might depend on what the Lions do in the NFL draft and how confident the new staff feels in Chris Houston and Slay as corners next season.

S John Wendling (UFA): Primarily a special teams player, he made 14 special teams tackles and played one defensive snap this season.

S Don Carey (UFA): He could be an interesting decision, depending what he is asking for. He played in 14 games and had 19 defensive tackles this season along with 11 special teams tackles. He is more valued as a special teamer than as a safety or nickel back.

K David Akers (UFA): Akers made 19 of 24 field goals this season at 79.2 percent, 28th in the league. Considering the Lions signed John Potter and Giorgio Tavecchio to futures deals, it would seem highly unlikely Akers returned to the Lions.

LS Don Muhlbach (UFA): Muhlbach is a good locker room guy and most teams need a long snapper, so there would be little reason to not have him return unless someone else on the Lions roster has shown that ability well. Muhlbach seemed to have a good comfort level with punter/holder Sam Martin.
Ezekiel AnsahTim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDetroit's defensive line stuck to its team approach Thursday, getting after Green Bay QB Matt Flynn.
DETROIT -- In some ways, the Detroit Lions' defensive line was sleeping most of the season. It had been inconsistent. It was a group in the middle of the NFL in sacks, a group long on talent and short on statistics.

They would see stacked protections -- to the point that defensive end Willie Young would joke with opponents they were on the wrong side just to try to find an opening. They would pressure the quarterback but never actually reach him.

Then Green Bay offensive lineman Josh Sitton spoke. Called the Detroit defensive linemen dirtbags. Scumbags. Insulted Lions coach Jim Schwartz. It might have been all the poking Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley needed.

"It's waking up sleeping dogs," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "But that's how he felt. He expressed it.

"We responded."

By the time the Lions' 40-10 thrashing of the Packers ended, the Lions' once-hibernating defensive front was wide awake. And there could be another easy word to describe them.

Dominant. Utterly and completely dominant.

"It's just the performance we always believe we can have," defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said.

When the Detroit defensive line plays like it did Thursday -- with 16 tackles, seven quarterback hits, five sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a safety -- the Lions can be one of the top teams in the NFL.

The pressure Detroit's front four can place on an opposing quarterback -- and it appeared the Lions blitzed linebackers and safeties Thursday more often than they usually do -- changes the entire game.

When Detroit can combine that with taking away a quarterback's first read, which the Lions did to Matt Flynn, it'll give the Lions enough time to reach the passer.

This was, by far, the best the Lions defense played this season and, by far, the best the Lions have played overall. The way the defense played eliminated pressure on Matthew Stafford and the offense because they knew they might get extra opportunities and wouldn't have to score on every possession to win.

It begins with the defensive line, a group that insisted it approached things the same way every week, always rushing the quarterback, but due to quick-twitch passers or protections featuring linemen, tight ends and running backs, it was unable to actually sack the quarterback.

"Every game, we go out and do the same thing over and over," rookie defensive end Devin Taylor said. "Every time, something happens. We get closer and closer.

"Finally, today, we were actually able to get back to the quarterback."

It all started before the game. Instead of coming out individually during introductions, the defensive line -- and safety and the soul of the defense, Louis Delmas -- ignored that. When Young was announced, the entirety of the line came out.

Together.

After the game, the Lions' defensive linemen said it had nothing to do with being called scumbags and dirtbags by Sitton. It was an idea, Suh said, that came from Andre Fluellen to show solidarity.

How they played backed that up. With perhaps a little bit extra because of Sitton.

"Unreal," center Dominic Raiola said. "They looked unblockable today. Seriously."

They pretty much were. It wasn't just the line, either. The defense held Green Bay to 24 rushing yards and sacked Flynn almost as often as he completed passes (seven sacks, 10 completions).

Ndamukong Suh reached the end zone for a safety. That's more than the Packers' offense did all day long.

"It's embarrassing," Sitton said. "We got our a-- beat. Plain and simple. They smacked us today."

Of course, Sitton influenced that. While Detroit's defensive line -- those guys Sitton thought were scumbags and dirtbags a couple of days ago -- tried to downplay what he said, the line played differently Sunday.

The linemen played as if they were trying to prove something. To themselves. To Sitton. To the rest of the NFL.

From the veterans such as Young, who had five tackles and a fumble recovery, and Suh, who had the safety sack, to the rookies such as Taylor and Ziggy Ansah, who each had three tackles and two sacks, the entire group appeared both present and almost possessed by a singular goal of flattening Flynn.

"I know it motivated some guys, especially the D-line," offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle said. "I feel like it did motivate them.

"[Green Bay] kind of hurt themselves by saying that, I feel like. Just because it was another thing to add into the pot of extra motivation for those guys."

It was something already percolating, too. Detroit had heard a lot about the dirtiness of its defensive line over the past month, from Chicago's Brandon Marshall to Sitton. Combine that with a two-game losing streak to teams with losing records. And giving up two leads in the fourth quarter the past two weeks.

Motivation wasn't going to be an issue. Add Sitton's words and it turned combustible.

It blew up on Sitton. The Packers are now under .500 and well behind Detroit in the NFC North race.

It blew up for Detroit. The Lions once again gained tenuous control of the division, with a 1½-game lead on Chicago because of the tiebreaker they have over the Bears.

It all started with the defensive line, a group that can now be called whatever they want.

"It was, you can say it was a dominating performance. It's just something we've got to string together, man," Mosley said. "I think that'll kind of take us to the next level where we want to be as far as the postseason.

"We've got to string performances like this together."

If they do, the Detroit Lions, up one week, down the next, might just end up making the playoffs after all.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- On a day where the Detroit Lions got at least a little bit in practice from all of its players, the biggest news of all was who practiced in full: Nate Burleson.

Burleson
Burleson
The wide receiver was not limited in practice for the first time since breaking his forearm in a September car crash, but he was part of the team drills the past two days, a good sign for his potential return.

"Things are looking up for Nate Burleson," Burleson said. "Catching some balls. Getting some high-fives. My friends are talking to me again. Finally feel like things are looking up, man.

'That pizza set me back, man."

It was a good day overall as the Lions had every player on the roster available to practice on at least a limited basis.

Besides Burleson, cornerback Bill Bentley practiced fully for the first time in a couple of weeks. Cornerback Jonte Green also returned fully after being sick Wednesday. Right tackle Corey Hilliard also practiced in full.

There were, though, many Lions limited on Thursday: defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle); running back Joique Bell (Achilles); safety Louis Delmas (knee); defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (thigh); defensive end Israel Idonije (knee); wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee); tight end Brandon Pettigrew (knee) and safety Glover Quin (ankle).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Running back Joique Bell's injury is officially listed as an Achilles injury on Wednesday's Detroit Lions practice report.

Bell was injured in the second half against Pittsburgh, but Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Bell could have returned to the game but did not.

Other Lions missing practice Wednesday were cornerback Jonte Green (illness), wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) and safety Glover Quin (ankle).

The limited Lions list was much longer, including defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle), cornerback Bill Bentley (knee), wide receiver Nate Burleson (forearm), safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (thigh), defensive end Israel Idonije (knee) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (knee).

Pettigrew also had a massive, massive wrap on his left knee as he went through drills Wednesday.

In good news for Detroit, right tackle Corey Hilliard (knee) practiced fully Wednesday.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit defensive tackle Andre Fluellen missed practice Wednesday with a concussion, the third one a Lions player has suffered in recent weeks.

Running back Theo Riddick and tight end Tony Scheffler, who has since been released, both had concussions against Green Bay on Oct. 6.

Fluellen was one of six Lions to miss practice Wednesday. The others were wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), left tackle Riley Reiff (hamstring), safety Louis Delmas (knee), right tackle Corey Hilliard (knee) and wide receiver Nate Burleson (forearm).

Tackle Jason Fox (knee) and cornerback Rashean Mathis (groin) were limited. Mathis said Wednesday he did not re-injure his groin against Cincinnati when he left the game in the fourth quarter.

Riddick practiced fully Wednesday for the first time since being concussed.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Wide receiver Calvin Johnson did not practice Wednesday for the Detroit Lions, although that shouldn't be a concern at this point.

Earlier this season, he took some Wednesdays off.

More pressing was Detroit's offensive tackle issue. Jason Fox returned to practice at one tackle and LaAdrian Waddle, who played both left and right tackle in relief of Riley Reiff and Corey Hilliard on Sunday, was at the other.

Also missing from practice were safety Louis Delmas, wide receiver Nate Burleson and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen.
Question of the Week is a new feature where we ask different Lions the same question on various topics -- some funny, some issue-based, some football-related and some completely off the wall. To suggest a potential question for QOTW, email michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or make the suggestion on Twitter @mikerothstein

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- From movie themes to rap, from country music to Vanessa Carlton. Even a smattering of Phil Collins. And one guy -- all he wants is silence.

With the local baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, in the playoffs, this week’s Question of the Week centered around what songs the Lions would choose if they could pick their own pregame entrance music or walk-up music.

The answers, as you’ll see, were pretty diverse. (And, for the record, I’d pick "One Night," by Matthew Koma.)

DT Andre Fluellen: Ahh, man. Oh, man. My entrance music? Oh, man. I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t even know, man. I feel like I would actually just have total silence. Everybody be quiet. That kind of thing. Total silence.

C Dominic Raiola: That Ric Flair song, Odyssey, "2001 Space Odyssey."

Reporter: Why? Because of Ric?

Raiola: Yeah, Nature Boy. There’s so much color behind it. A lot of imagination behind that song. It’s like the light shining on you, popping out of the smoke everywhere. Come out with a robe on, that’d be awesome.

DT C.J. Mosley: Man, I got too many, man. I got too many, man. Probably Pastor Troy, “We Ready.” You don’t know that.

Reporter: I can look it up. You saw my face, huh.

Mosley: Aside from the actual song, when Pastor Troy came out, he was relatively unknown. He was basically a nobody going against a giant at that time, who was Master P. You’ve heard of Master P?

(Read full post)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It is a mentality, a thought process carrying over from high school to college and for the Detroit Lions on to the NFL.

Every coach who has ever coached football preaches it and mentions it, how a defense making stops on third downs are instrumental to any victory and any successful season.

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
AP Photo/Paul SancyaSafety Glover Quin is one of the key players for a Lions defense that has allowed an NFL-low 10 third-down conversions through four weeks.
This season, no one is accomplishing this better than the Lions, who are allowing teams to convert third downs just 21.3 percent of the time. They are one of two teams, along with Kansas City at 22.2 percent, to keep teams under 30 percent so far this year.

“It’s definitely a mentality you’ve got to have, man,” Detroit defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “We just know what’s at stake. It’s a big momentum swing to get off on third down if we don’t get a sack or a play like that.

“We know what it does for the team so it’s very important to us.”

If Detroit can keep this pace going -- and Lions coach Jim Schwartz said earlier in the week it would be difficult to do -- it would be the best third-down conversion defense since at least 2001.

Since 2001, only four teams have held teams under a 30 percent conversion rate over an entire season in the NFL: Tennessee (27.7), Baltimore (29.4) and Denver (29.6) in 2003 and Baltimore (28.8) in 2006.

The good news for the Lions there -- if they can keep their pace even close to what it is now and stay under 30 percent, all four of those teams made the playoffs. None won or even made the Super Bowl, but they all had a shot at it by the end of the season.

Detroit wasn’t bad on third-down defense a year ago, finishing 10th in the league with a 36.5 percent conversion rate. But the pace the Lions are on now is fairly historic.

The Lions' current rate, though, is extremely impressive -- not only because of the lack of conversion rate but also because of what Detroit is doing on first and second downs to set it up.

The Lions have allowed an NFL-low 10 third-down conversions, not including three penalties that awarded teams first downs. They have only been in third-down situations 47 times this season, a shade under 12 times a game, not including those three penalties.

Detroit’s opponents, including those three penalized plays, are averaging 7.54 yards-to-go per third down, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and are gaining an average of 3.5 yards on those third downs, according to Stats & Info. On just the 47 plays that have counted, the Lions are allowing just 2.85 yards for a third-down play and an opponent passer rating of 44.4 -- second-lowest in the league behind Seattle.

Part of why Detroit has been so good in these spots starts with the defensive line, where Ndamukong Suh has been a disruptive force all season, and ends with the Lions’ two safeties, Glover Quin and Louis Delmas. Both Quin and Delmas intercepted a pass on third down Sunday against Chicago.

“It’s a combination of rush and coverage,” defensive tackle Andre Fluellen said. “They don’t really work without the other. The rush doesn’t work without the back end covering and the back end can’t cover forever without the rush.

“It’s a good combination of that. We’ve been having a good game plan to do those things.”

The Lions have intercepted three passes on third down. They’ve sacked opposing quarterbacks five times on third down. One of the craziest parts of this? Detroit isn’t even bringing a ton of pressure on third downs.

The Lions, per Stats & Information, are only blitzing on 17 percent of opponent’s third downs, the second-lowest number in the league.

“We certainly spent a lot of time on third down and we want to get off the field on third down,” Schwartz said. “It’s just the rate we’re going at now is pretty tough to sustain. We have guys that rush. We have some guys in the backend that can get the ball.

“We have some guys that have played pretty smart and matched up routes. I think the combination of the two. We have blitzed from time-to-time, I think that’s been effective when we have.”

Against Green Bay on Sunday, Detroit will need all of that if it wants to snap its 22-game losing streak in Wisconsin.

Note: Statistics used in this story were provided by ESPN Stats & Information.

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