As you might recall, the Detroit Lions experimented last summer with a defensive look that swapped their defensive tackles and ends to create mismatches. Tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were athletic enough to play outside, the theory went, and strong enough to overpower tackles who typically face smaller pass rushers.
The approach fizzled, however, because the Lions didn't like their interior options for flipping defensive ends inside. But after overhauling their line this offseason, the Lions have resurrected the experiment this summer in a way that suggests it could be part of their regular-season game-planning.
The handful of snaps we saw in Thursday night's preseason game at the Cleveland Browns were encouraging, most notably for the way Fairley overpowered All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas when lined up across from him. But the key, according to coach Jim Schwartz, is having bigger defensive ends who are more experienced playing at defensive tackle.
"[Flipping positions is] something that we sort of have experimented around with in the past," Schwartz said. "… We did a little bit in this game. I think it is something that can be effective for us. A couple of our outside linemen also have inside rushing experience -- like Israel Idonije and Jason Jones. So it gives us flexibility for us to mix and match. That's a position that we haven't always had in the past. We weren't able to do that because we would be a little weaker in the middle. It has chance to be a nice part of our rush package."
As we discussed in the offseason, the Lions changed their athletic profile when it came to defensive ends, preferring them to be taller and with longer arms then the players they have used there previously. Idonije and Jones both have been used as "swing" linemen in their careers, playing outside in base and moving inside in nickel situations, and it's more reasonable to expect them to hold down the middle with Fairley and Suh outside.
Note: Schwartz commented Saturday evening on two points of discussion we have hit in recent days. He said that tight end Tony Scheffler's reduced playing time Thursday night was in fact to make room for an extended evaluation of receiver Ryan Broyles. He also said the decision to sign veterans Justin Bannan, Rocky McIntosh and Rashean Mathis "wasn't a reaction to anyone's play or anything else. It was more the opportunity to get those guys."