Allen Park — Physically and mentally, defensive lineman Josh Paschal was more advanced than a typical rookie when the Detroit Lions drafted him in the second round out of Kentucky last year. Still, the challenge of missing his first offseason program because of a core muscle injury proved to be a developmental hurdle.
After sitting out the first six games last season, Paschal was immediately asked to shoulder a sizeable workload, averaging nearly 60 snaps per game in his first three weeks, in large part due to injuries to guys who started the season ahead of him on the depth chart. But another bump in the road, a knee injury, sidelined the then-rookie for two additional weeks. Once he returned to action a second time, he played more than 20 snaps in a game just once the rest of the way.
It’s often noted by coaches that the biggest developmental jump for players comes between their first and second years. It stands to reason that Paschal is primed to experience that improvement. Despite the start-stop nature of his debut campaign, the experience he did get was enough to provide him an understanding of what it takes to succeed at the professional level, compared to his time in the SEC. But more importantly, he’s had the benefit of a full offseason program to improve his strength and conditioning, while having time to dig deep into the nuanced fundamentals that are the great separator in the NFL.
“That’s one player that I’m very excited for,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “He really didn’t get a chance to go through an offseason program last year, and he’s been able to do that, so I think we’re starting to see the fruits of that show up. He’s a powerful, physical man and again, that’s why we drafted him in the second round. We expected those things from him, and he’s going to be a good player. He’s going to be a really good player, and I’m excited to see what he’s going to give us in the season.”
Working primarily with the second-team defense, the 6-foot-3, 274-pound Paschal continues to split his snaps between the edge and interior of Detroit’s defensive line. And as the team has started working in pads, he’s becoming more noticeable by the day, finding his way into the backfield, including a practice-ending sack during a two-minute drive segment on Monday.
Being more explosive has been a point of emphasis for Paschal, working under the tutelage of new position coach John Scott Jr.
“I feel good about things,” Paschal said. “I feel like I’m developing in a good direction. Of course, I still have a lot of work to do, but camp is all about a steady progression. By the end of camp, I’ll be ready to go out and have a good season. I’m feeling healthy, feeling really good about this upcoming season.”
Paschal’s steady improvement adds another potentially reliable piece to Detroit’s budding crop of edge rushers, led by Aidan Hutchinson, Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara. Additionally, James Houston — who tallied 8.0 sacks in seven games as a rookie — along with John Cominsky and Julian Okwara are in that mix.
With a little more than five weeks before the team opens the regular season in Kansas City, Glenn is working to distill the best way to mix and match the talent to make life as difficult as possible for opposing quarterbacks.
“That’s something I think about quite a lot, to be honest with you — how do you utilize each player and how can you have different packages with those players, and who do you put together to be able to schematically do things that you want to do,” Glenn said. “We’re going to continue to do that. I actually love being able to do that because I love being able to see how I can get the offense to react to certain packages, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of that with the guys we have.”