One of the biggest perceived holes on the Detroit Lions roster is defensive end. The Lions chose not to re-sign one of their starters in Jason Jones and also let rotational contributor Darryl Tapp go. The team did make a significant free agent signing in Wallace Gilberry, but remained woefully thin at the position. In fact, the Lions entered the 2016 NFL Draft with just three defensive ends on the roster (not including Brandon Copeland, who is moving from linebacker to defensive end). Having only drafted one defensive end in the draft -- in the sixth round no less -- the Lions are still in a bit of a conundrum regarding not only their depth, but the starting left defensive end position.
But if head coach Jim Caldwell is worried, he isn't showing it. Devin Taylor returns this year for his fourth season with the team and appears primed to take the leap into being a starter. "He kept getting better," Caldwell said of Taylor’s performance last season. "He just kept getting better week in and week out."
Caldwell is right to have some confidence in Taylor. Despite coming off the bench last year, Taylor actually played more snaps than Jones, who was the team's official starter. Still, Taylor played in just 52.5 percent of defensive snaps in 2015, compared to Ansah’s 62.8. The Lions will be relying on Taylor to take another big step this year, with the cupboard being as bare as it is.
That said, Taylor appears to be doing all of the right things to earn his spot on the starting roster and undertake a bigger role. Last season the former fourth-round pick had a breakout performance, tallying 7.0 sacks, and Caldwell credits Taylor’s hard work for the improvement. "He’s certainly been very, very diligent in making certain he understands his assignments."
At this point in time, Taylor doesn’t have much competition for the starting gig. Gilberry is expected to get some playing time, but the 31-year-old defensive end only started one game last season. Aside from him, there isn't much out there. Rookie Anthony Zettel isn’t close to ready, and Copeland is still getting his feet wet at his new position.
So it will be up to Taylor, for the time being, to lock down the left side of the defensive line for a large portion of the game. Caldwell isn’t the only coach that seems content with that. Two weeks ago, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin expressed some guarded optimism regarding Taylor. "I would hope this is a year that he takes a step to be ready to be a full-time starter and to be a difference maker." As the offseason continues, we’ll see if that hope comes to fruition.