Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (94) tosses a football while waiting for NFL football training camp to begin Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, in Allen Park, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Duane Burleson
August 07, 2016

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The Detroit Lions invested a lot in the middle of their defensive line, drafting Ndamukong Suh No. 2 and Nick Fairley No. 13 in consecutive years, without much of a return.

Suh chose to leave the Lions last year as a free agent, signing with the Miami Dolphins. The Lions let Fairley go, and he signed with the St. Louis Rams, lasting only one season with them before joining the New Orleans Saints this year.

''I don't think we ever taken a step back,'' defensive end Devin Taylor insisted.

Detroit began rebuilding the unit around the talents of end Ezekiel Ansah, drafted No. 5 overall in 2013, and the experience of tackle Haloti Ngata, who re-signed this season. With first-year general manager Bob Quinn, the franchise made another commitment to the defensive line by selecting Alabama tackle A'Shawn Robinson in the second round.

''We have a lot of depth,'' Taylor said.

The pivotal player on the front, though, may prove to be Taylor, who has started just twice. The 6-foot-7, 275-pound Tylor has shown signs of promise, making seven sacks last year to more than double his career total from his first two years in the league.

''He's gotten a little bit better since the time that we've been here,'' Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. ''It seems like every year he makes some growth and some steps forward. I think he's one of those guys where the more familiar he becomes with a system, the better he plays.

''The last big games of the season, six games, he made a ton of plays for us and showed up a significant number of times. Hopefully we can keep him on the same trajectory.''

If Ansah can stay on his path of improvement, it will be an incredible feat.

He ranked third in the NFL with 14 1/2 sacks last season and became the first Lion to have 30 sacks in his first three seasons since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

Ansah, who plays 10-on-10 soccer during the offseason back home in Ghana and in Utah, where he went to college at BYU, is incredibly quick and agile for someone who is 6-5 and 275 pounds. During a drill earlier this week, he put both of his hands on the grass, hovering just above the ground, and powerfully shot out of his stance as he worked on his pass-rushing skills.

''Ziggy is an amazing player, an amazing athlete,'' Ngata said. ''I don't want to say (I am) jealous, but he makes things look so easy. It's fun to watch a kid like that continue to get better.''

Taylor believes the defensive line will be a strength this season, but Caldwell is not quite ready to echo that prediction five-plus weeks before the season starts.

''It's early, yet,'' he said. ''I mean there's talent there. There's no question about it. We have depth there at this point, but we'll wait and see.''

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