Detroit Lions players report for camp on Saturday, but before they do, we are counting down the top five training camp battles. Here’s a look at our previous three installments:
- Training camp battle No. 5 - Kick/Punt returner
- Training camp battle No. 4 - Strong safety
- Training camp battle No. 3 - Nickelback
For the No. 2 most important training camp battle, we’re going to stick with the defense. This is a position that has been in flux since the Lions decided to part ways with Cliff Avril.
Detroit Lions camp battle No. 2 - Left defensive end
The case for Cornelius Washington
The Detroit Lions didn’t do much to add to their defensive end depth chart this offseason, but they fairly aggressively pursued Cornelius Washington. On the very first day of free agency, the Lions and Washington agreed to a two-year, $5.825 million deal.
Washington wasn’t particularly successful with the Chicago Bears. In 31 games and just two starts, Washington managed only 3.0 sacks and 30 tackles over his four-year career in Chicago.
But the former sixth-round draft pick wasn’t given any favors when the Bears transitioned to a 3-4 defense in 2015. The move forced him to bulk up and rely on his strength, when it was his speed that made him a special player:
Now that he’s back in a more suitable 4-3 system and he has limited competition, Washington could be lined up to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career.
The case for Kerry Hyder
Though Hyder wasn’t technically a starter for most of 2016, he did end up finishing with the second-most snaps at defensive end, just five fewer than “starter” Devin Taylor.
Hyder continually improved throughout the season and picked up eight sacks along the way. Although Hyder moved all along the defensive line last year, a large majority of his snaps were taken at left end.
Ezekiel Ansah might be the big-name pass-rusher in Detroit, but teammate Kerry Hyder quietly posted similar marks in 2016. pic.twitter.com/tQgo5AR1Kl— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 16, 2017
So to recap: Hyder played at a pretty high level in 2016, he received a starter’s portion of snaps throughout the year, and most of his play came at the left end position. That sounds like a prime candidate to take over as the starter in 2017.
The case for Armonty Bryant
Bryant has two big hurdles to make his way onto the starting roster. First, he must convince the Lions coaching staff he is worth keeping despite his four-game suspension—mind you, his third suspension in two years. But he’ll have a hard time making his case right away, because he was placed on the PUP list earlier in the week as he continues to rehab from a knee injury.
That being said, Bryant has been a well above average pass rusher when he has managed to make it onto the field. In the past two seasons, Bryant has amassed 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in just 19 games and two starts.
If Bryant can get past his personal and injury issues, he could certainly be a big part of this defense. But those are two big ifs right now.
Who has the advantage going into training camp?
Given his experience in the system and his impressive 2016 season, I have to give the slight edge to Kerry Hyder right now. I do think Washington will get a heavy rotation of snaps on this defense, but his talent is still too theoretical to be handed the starting job right away.
What Detroit does with Bryant is anyone’s guess. It seems like he has run out of second chances, but because the Lions are very thin at the position, they may have no other choice than to keep him around.
Who will be the Lions’ starting left end this season?
This poll is closed