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Coach Speak: The DeVries Injury

Much print space and media time has been given to the lack of depth that the Lions have at Left Defensive End. This situation was made much more difficult by the loss of projected starter Jared DeVries for the season.

Why is this loss so important? Why does it matter who plays on what side?

Different defensive schemes and alignments use personnel differently (see Defensive Terminology, Part I and II).

Coach Marinelli , as has been well documented, had a general focus on lighter, quicker players at every defensive position, and was not necessarily concerned with who played which end spot, though his
preference was to have a faster, quicker player at right end. Coach Schwartz has made clear his desire for bigger, stronger players and has also made a clear delineation between left and right ends.

So what is the difference?

In Coach Schwartz and Coach Cunningham’s scheme, as is the case in most 4-3 defensive alignments that feature heavy use of “Over” and “Under” calls, requires two entirely different players to line up at defensive end.

The right end is general a pure pass rusher. Leaner, quicker, with excellent burst, these men are best suited to take on the opponents left tackle one-on-one and win with speed and agility. They are generally pass-first players. The left end is very different. As most offenses are right-handed, that is to say, tight-end heavy to their right, the left end has to be a significantly larger man, capable of setting the edge against the run and stoutly handling those mauling right tackles and their tight end help. They are generally run-first players. Looking at the Lions roster, these are the players who fit these descriptions:

Right End: Cliff Avril, Dewayne White, Jason Hunter, Ryan Kees,

Left End: Jared DeVries (Out), Ikaika Alama-Francis, Sean Conover, Andre Fluellen (DT)

When one considers this, the problem is laid clear: aside from DeVries, IAF is likely the only real option at left end, unless Fluellen is moved outside, which does not seem likely based upon camp reps. Alama-Francis is an impressive physical specimen, a full fifteen pounds heavier than last year, but still muscled in a lean way. At 290 pounds, he is more than heavy enough to stand up against the run, and has been getting a large number of reps at defensive tackle this season. Yet in his two years with the team, he has yet to show anything that would inspire confidence in his ability to contribute consistently.

Solutions?

If the season started tomorrow, Dewayne White would likely be moved to left end, leaving Cliff Avril to start on the right side. The reality of this lineup is that both players have areas of concern. Avril has yet to prove himself as an everyday player and questions about his ability to play the run remain. White was brought to Detroit because of his pass rush ability, and at a lean 270 pounds, he may not be big enough to stand up to the double teams. That was what Jared DeVries was best at, and that is what makes his loss so significant.

The rotation might have looked something like this:

Running downs- DeVries (LE), White (RE)
Neutral downs- DeVries (LE), Avril (RE)
Passing downs- White (LE), Avril (RE)
Nickel- Peterson (LE), Avril (RE)

Now it is more difficult to project such rotations. Coach Cunningham likes to rotate guys in and out on the edge, and his current depth will make that difficult. A possible result is a greater use of nickel alignments, but that will take the defensive strength of the team, it’s linebackers, out of their comfort zones.
Look, as a fan, I love Cliff Avril as much as the next guy. Why wouldn’t I? He looked like a difference maker last season and, for stretches, wrecked havoc in opposing backfields. The coach in me can’t help but see him differently. He was a rookie. He likely was not facing situations where teams game planned against him.

He was rotated in and out heavily, even though he was listed as a starter several times near the end of the season. In short, he was asked to do a lot less than he will be this year. I’m not saying he can’t be that every down guy that makes rotating guys in at left end much easier. I am saying, however, that it will be some time before we can even begin to get a picture of what he can bring.

Though it has long been rumored, look for the GM Martin Mayhew to cave in to Kevin Carter’s financial demands. Carter’s size and skill set fit the above descriptions perfectly, and would give Coach Schwartz and Coach Cunningham the flexibility that they desire.


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2 Responses to “Coach Speak: The DeVries Injury”

  1. Todd Tennis says:

    Great post – you said what I was thinking.

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