ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The regular season is finally here, with the Detroit Lions opening the season against Arizona on Sunday. That means out mailbags revert to Saturdays almost every week (except in Monday Night Football situations), so prepare your questions accordingly.
To ask a question for a mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask away on Facebook.
This is a fair question -- and one that is one of the biggest ones facing the Lions as the season gets started Sunday against Arizona. Much has been made, and rightly so, about the questionable Detroit pass rush. The Lions have one certain rusher in Ezekiel Ansah and he’s coming off a knee injury and the worst season of his NFL career.
Other than that, there’s no proven talent. Kerry Hyder is out for the season. Brandon Copeland, who wasn’t a surefire pass-rusher to begin with, is also out for the year. Cornelius Washington is coming into a new system with three career sacks and his own injury questions. Washington has yet to play 16 games in a season and missed part of camp with his own injury.
Anthony Zettel showed promise in the preseason, but it’s a large leap from being the last rusher in a rotation, as he was last year, to being a key contributor. And Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga are undrafted rookies.
So the Lions have hope, but no tangible evidence that group will get any sustained rush after a season where Detroit struggled with it all last season.
“We’re going to find that out soon,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “I think our guys play hard. I think we understand what we have to do and we’ll just see if we can put it into action this week. There’s no guarantees what’s going to happen, but you’re right, the track record and everything you see doesn’t indicate that there’s going to be a lot of production.
“But every year, I think [defensive line coach] Kris [Kocurek] has a done a good job with our guys and we have a guy that kind of shows up out of nowhere and gets six, seven, eight sacks and really helps us in the pass rush. So, I anticipate somebody’s going to be that guy this year, I don’t know who.”
Those guys in the past have been Hyder, George Johnson and Devin Taylor. And that’s where this question comes in, because Johnson and Taylor were cut by Tampa Bay and the New York Giants – meaning they are both available. So are former Lions defensive ends Wallace Gilberry (cut by Cincinnati) and Darryl Tapp (cut by New Orleans).
None of those guys would be major game-changers for Detroit, but could be rotational pieces. Taylor followed up a breakout 2015 with a disappointing 2016. Johnson was unproductive and had injury issues in Tampa. Gilberry was cut soon after being hurt last year and Tapp was let go after the initial roster cut-down.
The Lions are likely waiting to see if any of their young talent breaks out before going after an established veteran – and because Armonty Bryant is scheduled to come back after Week 4, Detroit is potentially hesitant to make a move until next week because if a veteran signs before the first game, his salary is guaranteed for the year. If he signs afterward, it isn’t.
So if the Lions struggle Sunday getting to Carson Palmer and none of those young options show immediate breakout potential, the Lions should at least look at some veteran options there – even if it is just until Bryant returns to the rotation after Week 4.
And a second bonus question:
Why do the lions do rotating captains? I personally hate it. #LionsMailbag— Jacob Baumann (@Jacob_A_Baumann) September 8, 2017
I asked Caldwell about this – and whether or not he would go back to permanent, season-long captains. He said he’s thought about it but likes the leadership component with this team. But he’s sticking with rotating captains. (It’s Matthew Stafford, Glover Quin and Don Carey this week.)
Here’s his explanation for why he’s sticking with rotating captains:
“We have so many good leaders. We have so many guys,” Caldwell said. “So if I choose Glover Quin, then I’m leaving out Haloti Ngata, who is a huge part of what we do. If I choose Matthew Stafford, then I’m leaving out Theo Riddick, a T.J. Lang, just a number of different guys across the board. That is the reason why we’ve extended it. Initially it’s kind of getting a feel, but then I realized that it’s a pretty special group of guys. Usually you only have one or two bell cows, but fortunately, we have a number of them.”