Lions trying to figure out who will line up next to Haloti Ngata

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Haloti Ngata has spent the past two weeks away from the Detroit Lions during offseason workouts. This has been both good and bad for the franchise.

The good is Ngata is a veteran who understands a lot of the scheme the team is trying to run because it has the same basic tenets as what he ran for the majority of his career with Baltimore. Ngata’s role won’t be unfamiliar to him.

Plus, he’s a veteran on the bad side of 30 years old, so there is no need to wear him down with spring reps. The reps that would have gone to Ngata can now be dispersed among the players who are competing to line up next to him in September.

However, with Ngata gone, it is tough for any of these players to develop the potential chemistry with each other that came easy to the Lions interior defensive line last season, when Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen understood each other’s moves and game so well that they could play off each other better.

With an almost entirely new group of defensive tackles, that will take some time. But the Lions’ other offseason acquisition at defensive tackle, Tyrunn Walker, said so far they have worked well together even though Ngata has been there sparingly.

“We’ve been around, working out in the offseason and stuff,” Walker said. “He’s a great guy. Easy to get along with. It’s going to be a great fit with all these guys.”

How they fit is still in question. While Ngata’s job at defensive tackle is essentially secure this season, Walker is in a competition with second-year pro Caraun Reid and rookie Gabe Wright for the slot next to him. All three will be in a tackle rotation this season, but the battle could go deep into training camp.

Reid has been particularly impressive, often lining up with the first group no matter who is next to him. Part of that, at least early on, could have been due to familiarity with the scheme that Wright and Walker are still learning.

But he’s continued to show up and, according to Lions coach Jim Caldwell, picked up some of the training habits of Suh. Considering Suh is considered one of the best conditioned linemen in the league, this is a good thing.

Caldwell even said he saw Reid in the training facility early in the morning recently by himself – in the same spot Suh inhabited a year ago. It’s part of the transformation Reid has been making as he knows there is more opportunity for playing time this season.

“He looks quicker,” Caldwell said. “He’s running to the ball. He’s in great shape. So we’ll see if that translates.”

The Lions need at least one – if not more – of the candidates next to Ngata to flourish. Which one ends up lining up next to him could start sorting itself out next week, when Ngata should return for mandatory minicamp.