A newsy week has delayed my plan to circle back on the Detroit Lions' release of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, a move that gives us an opportunity to reflect on the unique role he filled for the team.
A Pro Bowl pass rusher in his prime with the Tennessee Titans, Vanden Bosch managed 15.5 sacks over three seasons with the Lions. But when the Lions made him their top free agent target in 2010, we all knew they were paying for his non-stop motor as much as his pass-rushing skills. After years of listless defensive play that spanned multiple coaching staffs, the Lions needed a player who could demonstrate the energy necessary to play the kind of aggressive defense every team aspires to.
Vanden Bosch caught my eye that summer in training camp, chasing running backs 25 yards downfield as part of his practice to touch the ball after every rep in every drill. And while everyone remembers the 2010 regular season opener as the "Calvin Johnson game" -- officials ruled that Johnson did not "complete the process" of a game-winning touchdown catch -- it was also one of the most remarkable games you'll ever see from a 4-3 defensive end.
Vanden Bosch was literally all over the field in that game, a 19-14 loss to the Chicago Bears. He played 78 of the Lions' 79 defensive snaps in that game (via Pro Football Focus), by far the highest snap total in his three years with the Lions, and was credited with 10 solo tackles. That's a huge number for a defensive end and it was the highest total in Vanden Bosch's 12-year, 152-game career.
He did not sack Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in that game, but Pro Football Focus credited him with seven quarterback hurries and four "stops" -- solo tackles that constituted a failure by the offense. It was quite literally a template for the way any coach could hope a defender at any position would play: Ferocious, non-stop effort and productive.
"Coach [Jim] Schwartz brought me in to help change the culture and change the attitude and the first day I got there I gave it everything I had," Vanden Bosch told Tim Twentyman of the Lions' web site.
It's possible that some Lions teammates, and maybe Vanden Bosch himself, went too far with his "play-through-the-whistle" approach. But let's not forget how weak the Lions' defense was before his arrival. Ultimately, the Lions were much closer to playing winning defense after his arrival than they were before, and I hope anyone with mildly trained eyes would agree.
"That’s the thing that’s always been the most important to me, just the impact that I have on other players and the pride I took as a leader," Vanden Bosch told the Lions' web site. "The thing that’s important to me is my legacy. … I was just somebody who did things the right way and didn’t take anything for granted. It was important to me that while I was playing [I was giving] 100 percent every practice and every game, so that if I don’t get to play another snap then I could look back and just be proud of what I did and have no regrets and have the respect of the people I played with and played against."
In the end, the Lions paid a lot of money -- about $20 million over three years -- to employ an example-setter. If a player ever wanted to know what he should be doing at any given moment -- be it during practice, games, offseason workouts or during down times in the locker room -- he could watch Vanden Bosch and find out. Not everyone took advantage of that opportunity, but the Lions did well to provide it.