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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Lions asking everything of their D-line

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Now that we've put the latest Brett Favre news cycle to bed (I think), we're going to be all about the Detroit Lions' defensive line here Wednesday afternoon. Rookie Ndamukong Suh arrived at the facility at 1:40 p.m. ET and is expected to practice at 3:15 p.m. I'll have some first impressions for you afterwards.

Kyle Vanden Bosch
Kyle Vanden Bosch and the defensive line will have to make up for the weaknesses in other areas of Detroit's defense.
But first, I wanted to delve into the larger topic of the Lions' defensive line overhaul. After four practices over the past three days, I feel comfortable that this an NFL-caliber and potentially havoc-wreaking defensive line. (You couldn't make either statement a year ago.) But the way the Lions are structured, this can't be just an NFL-caliber defensive line -- not if the Lions want to effect a significant climb from the bottom of the league's defensive rankings.

Or, as defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said: "If this defense is going to be good, it's going to be on us up front, and we're just going to have to wreak havoc. We're going to have to bring energy to every practice and we're just going to have to keep on pushing each other and make improvements."

That's going to be the key to unlocking the Lions' defensive mystery this season: Can a strong defensive line cover for shortcomings -- or at least significant uncertainty -- elsewhere? No matter what you say about the potential of the Lions' linebackers and secondary, you can't claim that many of them are established players.

I posed that topic to coach Jim Schwartz, who was gracious enough to give me some time Wednesday afternoon. Schwartz has said that he wants to reserve judgment about the line until he sees it perform under game conditions, not to mention with Suh in the mix. But Schwartz believes in the theory of some positions covering for others.

"We've always thought that you want to be strong upfront, particularly on defense," Schwartz said. "If you are, you can cover for a lot of other things. If you're strong up front, you might not need the extra man in the box. If you're strong up front, you don't need to blitz to get to the quarterback. You can have an effect on a lot of other positions."

The Lions didn't necessarily pursue this particular structure as much as they just accepted the opportunity. Suh was their highest-rated player in the draft, and so they picked him. Corey Williams was available from Cleveland for a song. Vanden Bosch was the rare commodity of an available pass rusher, one with who Schwartz had a long history.

But it will be up to that group to provide regular instances of what happened during Tuesday morning's live-contact running drill. Williams stuffed the run on one play and Vanden Bosch did the same on another, accounting for two-thirds of the plays the first team saw in the drill.

"Until you see it in a real game you never really know," Schwartz said. "But I think we have some seen some good signs. ... They had an outstanding period in a way that affected the rest of the group."

Players have noticed their energy, even if production is difficult to judge in practice.

"What stands out to me is the D-line," safety Louis Delmas said. "Those are dogs up there. There's nothing like having a bunch of guys that want to play football and want to get to the quarterback. It's like they think the quarterback has money pouches on him. The way I see it, the second is going to have three or four seconds at most to cover guys."

In truth, the secondary is going to need that type of support for this defense to improve. Delmas hasn't practiced yet while nursing a groin injury, and I would consider him the only established defensive back the Lions have. The first-team secondary has remained consistent during the time I've been here -- Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade at cornerback, with Marvin White and C.C. Brown at safety -- and I haven't seen anything to suggest there are any diamonds in the rough here. The Lions' offense has gotten the best of them more often than not.

OK, I'm headed out to Suh-a-palooza. Check back in a bit.