Indianapolis — It's highly unlikely the Lions will re-sign both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason, and there's a chance neither will be back in Detroit.
That means the Lions will need to pursue starting-caliber defensive tackles in both free agency and the draft. At the NFL combine last week, one of the team's top priorities was talking to the top tackle prospects with hopes of finding someone who could make an immediate impact.
"They're trying to get a feel for whether I can fit into their defense right away — not just play, but be a playmaker for them," Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett said.
Bennett and other defensive tackle prospects said they sat with a Lions contingent this week including defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, and the question of what those players would think of replacing Suh or Fairley arose.
"It'd be great because those are great players," Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman said of possibly joining Suh or Fairley. "If I do get drafted to the Detroit Lions, I know I have to prove myself. That'd be a great experience and a great learning opportunity, too."
Plenty of young players, including Goldman and Malcom Brown from Texas, said they admire the way Suh plays and watch him for advice on how to play the position. In five years, Suh was a first-team All-Pro three times, but he wants to test the free-agent market. If he leaves, the Lions will need to find ways to replace his production on the interior, and Fairley and C.J. Mosley are free agents, too.
NFL.com draft analyst Mike Mayock said he thinks there are eight "high-level" defensive tackle prospects in the draft. If the Lions target one in the first round with the 23rd pick, Bennett, Brown, Goldman, Oregon's Arik Armstead, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips and Iowa's Carl Davis could be options.