|Mike Carter / US Presswire|
|Kyle Vanden Bosch's work ethic has infected the young Lions.|
With 24-year-old Ndamukong Suh, 23-year-old Nick Fairley and 25-year-old Cliff Avril leading the charge, the Lions' defensive line is at the heart of a franchise revival that's built to stand the test of time. But the soul of that group comes from 32-year-old defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
It's pretty obvious now why Detroit coach Jim Schwartz waited outside Vanden Bosch's house as the clock ticked to the start of free agency in March 2010, and the reasons aren't confined to the eight sacks he's registered in 17 games as a Lion. Almost as important have been the lessons he's bestowed on what's becoming one of the nastier and most feared units in the league.
"There's no question about it -- he's changed how I've played, changed my game, since I got here," Avril said the other night, over the phone. "The first couple of weeks after he came in, he wasn't talking to anyone, and some of the younger players thought he might be a jerk. And so the first time we're practicing out there, you see him, and he's running 50, 60 yards to the ball, getting in the quarterback's face, running down receivers. It was amazing.
"And guys are saying, 'No way he practices like that all the time.' I kid you not -- every day from then to now, it's been at that speed. And it's contagious. Now we're all like that."
So where the other defensive linemen initially thought Vanden Bosch was crazy, now, they're all crazy.
Vanden Bosch's backup at right end, former Seahawks first-round pick Lawrence Jackson, acquired via trade from Seattle, actually has studied the former Titan since he was in college. And the key, Jackson says, is what shows up on film also appears everywhere else with Vanden Bosch.
"Seeing him in film, in the D-line room, in the weight room, you say to yourself, 'This is a 10-year vet, and if he's practicing this hard, lifting this hard, why can't I do this, too?' " Jackson explained. "He encourages you to do it, not because he's doing it, but because that's what you're supposed to do. It rubs off on everyone.
"He sets the tone, and a big part of that is peer pressure. His style of play creates room for someone else to make a play. For me, personally, I want to practice like that, I want to play like that, it raises my level. That relentlessness rubs off, it makes everyone play that way."
That much isn't hard to see watching the Lions.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer