It’s no secret that the Detroit Lions possess one of the most intimidating defensive lines in the NFL. With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as arguably the most recognizable faces along the line, a massive amount of talent and power is ruthlessly unleashed every time an opposing squad’s offense snaps the ball. Combined with the stout offensive attack led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions are poised to make a Super Bowl run in 2012. One major issue that could halt their pursuit though, is the detrimental on and off the field behavior of the defensive line.
The D-Line is also possibly the deepest in the league in terms of personnel. In addition to Suh and Fairley, defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch anchor the line on the outside. Corey Williams and Sammie Hill also battle in the trenches on the inside of the line. Although plagued by injuries last season, defensive ends Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young also add to the great depth.
Although not the most high-profile player on the roster, Cliff Avril enjoyed a breakout season in 2011. He recorded 11 sacks to lead the team in the category, totaling 36 tackles. He also forced six fumbles, good for second in the league behind only the Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs who forced seven. His three fumble recoveries were also good for second in the NFL.
“He’s a young player just coming into his prime,” Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said of Avril. “Each year he’s gotten better and each year he’s having a bigger impact and making bigger plays. It’s not just the sacks and the fumbles, either; it’s also the plays Cliff makes down the field.”
Kyle Vanden Bosch also posted strong numbers, contributing 35 total tackles, 8.0 sacks, and forcing four fumbles.
Following his All-Pro rookie season, Ndamukong Suh had a productive season with 36 total tackles and 4.0 sacks, although a dropoff from his 10.0 in 2010. A big reason for such a letdown could certainly be attributed to the now infamous “Suh Stomp.” During their Thanksgiving game against the Green Bay Packers, Suh completely lost control of his temper, driving Packers’ offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith’s head into the ground and then intentionally stomping on him. The mindless act got him his first NFL ejection and a two-game suspension without pay in the middle of Detroit’s playoff push. The ensuing apology did not bode well for his already blemished reputation either. “I apologize to my teammates and my fans and my coaches for putting myself in a position to be misinterpreted and taken out of the game,” he remarked. “I don’t do bad things and I have no intention to hurt somebody. If I want to hurt him, I’m going to hit his quarterback, as I did throughout the game.”
Nick Fairley has also had his share of discouraging behavior in his rookie season out of Auburn. In a span of less than two months, the 2011 first-round draft pick out of Auburn was arrested twice in his home state of Alabama, the last coming on May 27th, on charges of driving under the influence and attempting to elude police, in addition to reckless driving and no proof of insurance. The previous arrest pertained to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. With high expectations and great potential surrounding him, Fairley struggled with a persistent foot injury during his first season, playing in only 10 games, recording 15 total tackles and one sack.
The Lions racked up 41 sacks last season, ranking T-10th in the league, with 35 coming from the defensive line. Among defensive lines in the NFL, Detroit ranked fourth in 2011 with those 35 sacks. This upcoming season, they hope to build upon that success. To do so, they plan on mixing it up with the line, possibly introducing some new packages and moving Ndamukong Suh and other players to different positions on the line at times. No matter what the scheme, the team is looking to return to the playoffs once again after finally breaking their postseason drought, falling to the New Orleans Saints, 45-28, in the Wild Card round last season. One big factor in such a playoff push will be whether Suh can control his temper and Fairley can stay clear of any more criminal troubles.