Mon, 20 Sep 2021

2021 training camp preview: Defensive line

Detroit Lions
23 Jul 2021, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

On the roster: Michael Brockers, Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Julian Okwara, John Penisini, Nick Williams, D'Shawn Hand, Charles Harris, Austin Bryant, Jashon Cornell, Robert McCray, Brian Price, Kevin Strong, Joel Heath (IR)

Key losses: Danny Shelton, Everson Griffen

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Defensive tackle rotation

One area in particular where general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell knew they needed a significant upgrade this offseason was in the middle of their defensive line. So what did Holmes do? He traded for the veteran Brockers and drafted Onwuzurike and McNeill in the second and third rounds, respectively. Now the interior looks to be a potential strength for this defense, especially if Onwuzurike and McNeill are early contributors like Holmes and Campbell think they can be.

Behind those three there's some depth too, with Williams, Penisini, Strong and Hand. The wild card for me in the group is Hand. We saw what he could do as a rookie, but he hasn't been able to replicate that performance from 2018, mostly because of injuries. If he can stay healthy, and Penisini continues his fine play from his rookie season, Campbell will have a pretty deep and versatile interior defensive tackle group with a nice mix of young and veteran talent.

Twentyman's take: Things are going to look pretty different upfront in Aaron Glenn's new 3-4 base scheme. It's much more attacking, and he wants the linemen to play in the backfield and push the pocket up the field.

The defensive line has to play better in 2021 both against the run and affecting the quarterback. Detroit ranked 26th with 24 sacks last year and their 134.9 rushing yards allowed per game was 28th. They have to be significantly better in both areas for this defense to be better overall.

Romeo Okwara was great last season on the edge, and he earned his big free-agent deal this offseason. But the Lions need someone else to emerge on the edge as a threat too, whether that's Flowers, Julian Okwara or Austin Bryant. The edge guys will mix between putting their hand in the dirt and standing up in a two-point and moving around. They've shown some versatility in doing that this offseason, but training camp will be the true test.

By the numbers:

4: Sacks recorded by Lions defensive tackles in 2020.

6: Forced fumbles recorded by Detroit's defensive linemen last season.

10: Games with at least one tackle for loss for Romeo Okwara in 2020, which tied Trey Hendrickson and Maxx Crosby for the NFL lead.

32: Opponent rushes last season that resulted in negative yards, which was middle of the pack, ranking 17th.

71: Combined sacks, knockdowns and hurries for Romeo Okwara last season.

Quotable: "I'm excited for the different schemes that I can be able to create with the guys that we have," Glenn said this offseason. "We have size, we have speed, we have length. So you could use that in a number of different directions. We can be in base and get to a personnel package that you guys will see at some point."

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