Dan Campbell said personnel changes were coming to his league-worst defense this week. One of those changes involves moving players around on the defensive line.
Undrafted rookie defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor is in line to make his NFL debut Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit the New England Patriots. And after playing inside at defensive tackle all training camp, Taylor is moving to the Lions’ big defensive end spot.
“I played there in college, so it’s like I’m comfortable out there,” Taylor said Wednesday. “It’s just me making the calls and making sure everybody’s on the same page. So that’s like another thing that I don’t want to mess up on, so every time I get it I’m just trying to be as loud as I can so everybody on the D-line is on one accord.”
Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson has played primarily out of the Lions’ big end spot in base defensive packages through the first four games of the season, with Charles Harris at the rush end position.
Campbell said Monday he was considering moving Hutchinson around the line more “to see if we can give him the opportunity to have more success.” Hutchinson leads the Lions with three sacks, but they all came in a Week 2 win over the Washington Commanders, and he is among the most double-teamed linemen in the league.
Taylor, at 6 feet 1 and 295 pounds, adds girth to the defensive end spot, which should help a Lions defense that ranks 30th against the run at 165.5 yards per game and has struggled to contain outside runs this year.
By playing Taylor and others such as Austin Bryant and John Cominsky (when he returns from injury) at end, the Lions also could get more pass rushers on the field. Harris, who had a career-high 7½ sacks last season, is capable of playing rush linebacker in base defense.
“We’re really motivated to fix everything cause as a defense you’re thinking, ‘Man, the offense is putting up 30 points a game, you shouldn’t lose,’ so it’s like it’s on us,” Taylor said. “We know it’s on us to fix what we got going on and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Taylor said he first learned he would be in this week’s gameday rotation on Twitter, after Campbell mentioned the change Tuesday in his weekly radio interview.
Coaches confirmed he was in the gameplan in the Lions’ team meeting Wednesday, and Taylor took his first reps of the season at defensive end in Wednesday’s practice.
“Honestly, I feel like I can contribute just on my quickness and playing strength inside,” he said. “Feel like I got leverage on a bunch of guys and that’d be advantage me. Not a lot of guys can get up under me so that’s what I can contribute.”
Big shoes to fill
Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson is on track to return from a finger injury Sunday.
Jackson practiced Wednesday for the first time since injuring his right ring finger Sept. 14. As he talked with a reporter at his locker Wednesday, he fiddled with a hand exerciser he has been using to work on his grip strength.
“I’ve been biting at the bit since (missing the game against the) Commanders,” Jackson said. “If it happens this week, I’m ready to roll and my guys are ready to roll. We’re excited. Get this train rolling.”
The Lions have averaged 158.3 yards rushing per game in Jackson’s absence, with Dan Skipper starting at left guard and backups Evan Brown and Logan Stenberg playing right guard.
“Skip, Evan, they didn’t skip a beat with or without us, so hopefully I can help them find another beat and keep it going,” Jackson said. “I got some big shoes to fill, man. Them are size 18s (Skipper wears that I’ve) got to fill. But no, I’m excited. I can’t wait. Like I said, I’ve been biting at the bit since the injury happened.”