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08/04/12Author: Chris McCoskey - Detroit News

D-Line ‘Grey’ scheme promises dark days for opposing offensives

D-Line ‘Grey’ scheme promises dark days for opposing offensives

Allen Park— Have you seen the film "The Grey," where a pack of grey wolves hunts down an oil drilling team in Alaska?

The movie so inspired Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham that he's named one his defensive schemes after it.

"Yeah, I call it Grey," he said. "If you watch that movie you will know what I mean. Those wolves kind of tricked 'em and that's kind of what we're doing."

When Cunningham puts the team in Grey, he's moving defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and/or Nick Fairley to end and sliding the defensive ends inside.

"We started doing that in OTAs," he said. "A couple of the coaches wanted to wait, but I said, 'Well, 51 percent says you can't so let's start.' And the players really like it. There's lots of variations of these things we're doing — standing up (at the line of scrimmage) or being down (in a stance).

"The Pittsburgh Steelers made a living off it."

It has caused the offense some fits already during camp, especially during the fastball period where it's running no-huddle. Fairley seems to especially thrive in the set up.

"It's going to be real good for us," defensive tackle Corey Williams said. "Suh and Nick, those guys are athletes. They can play inside and out and it gives teams different looks. That's going to help open up the middle for me and Sammie (Hill) and Flu (Andre Fluellen)."

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch said the more mayhem and confusion the defensive linemen can cause up front, the more damage the linebackers can do behind them.

"That's a real good addition to have right there," Tulloch said of the Grey scheme. "With the D-line moving around causing confusion for the offensive line, that definitely helps me get downhill and make a lot of plays. Those big guys have to be accounted for at all times, so that's going to help us in the back."

The least it's going to do is cause opposing offensive coordinators some stress and extra planning time before playing the Lions.

"If we play a team that flip-flops their guys, we'd have to scout a little more and spend more time during the week," said left tackle Jeff Backus, who's had to deal with the likes of Suh or Fairley coming off his edge. "It's not really going to affect the play calling, but we would definitely have to spend more time looking at tendencies and knowing the different personnel.

"They are doing some really good things on defense. They are making it tough on us."

That's more than just a goal for the defensive line, it's a prerequisite for success. If the line is not wreaking havoc on quarterbacks and offensive lines, then the entire defensive structure is imperiled. All you have to do is review the film from the second half of last season to get confirmation of that.

"I like that pressure," Williams said. "That makes us have to step our game up. We have to set the tempo. The linebackers and defensive backs look up to us. If we are having a good game, they are having a good game."

Once again, the Lions look to rotate eight players through. Williams and Suh are expected to start at tackle, with Kyle Vanden Bosch and eventually Cliff Avril at the ends. There is little to no falloff to the second wave, which features Fairley and Hill at tackles, with Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson on the ends.

Fluellen, who plays inside and outside, and end Everette Brown are fighting to crack that rotation.

"The line that we have is two-tiered," Cunningham said, "and think any of those guys could start anywhere in the league. That's arguable, of course, but I really think those guys can play."

Young went as far as to say he thought the entire second unit would rank among the top 10 in the league if it played full-time.

"That's true," Williams said. "I agree with that. We've got a good unit. The second guys play just as well as the first guys. We've got that kind of depth."

They will need it. Last year, Fairley was injured most of the season, Suh was suspended for two games, and both Jackson and Young missed significant time. And without the ability to roll two tiers of defensive linemen through, productivity waned and the defense fell apart.

"I think we are an elite defensive line," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "I wouldn't compare us to anybody else. We're not trying to be the New York Giants. We're not trying to be anybody but the Detroit Lions. The talent that we have, if we play to our ability, that'll be enough. We don't spend our time thinking about anything else.

"We try to work, improve, go out every day, play well and stack ourselves up against ourselves and not how we rank in the league."

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