Lions' Devin Taylor emerging with inside move

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — NFL coaches often talk about how the more players do, the better chance they'll have at making an impact in games.

Defensive end Devin Taylor will have a chance to earn plenty of reps on the outside this season, but during minicamp Wednesday, he received some first-team reps at defensive tackle, lining up to the right of Haloti Ngata.

Taylor, in his third year, said playing inside is nothing new. After the Lions drafted him, he said coaches mentioned the possibility.

The difference this season is the Lions are looking at every possible way to replace the interior production they lost with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley, who all left as free agents. Just like 6-foot-5, 275-pound Jason Jones could be an option at tackle, the 6-7, 275-pound Taylor could become a versatile piece up front.

"They pretty much see me and J.J., I guess, as a similar body type, so they just work me inside," Taylor said. "Especially being a defensive end you have a little bit maybe of a speed advantage over some of the other tackles because (offensive linemen are) not used to playing people who have that kind of quickness."

Taylor entered last season with heightened expectations after flashing his talent as a rookie. A fourth-round pick, Taylor had 14 tackles, three for loss, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass defensed in 2013. With Willie Young and Israel Idonije gone, Taylor looked like the best candidate to become the No. 3 defensive end last year, but George Johnson and Darryl Tapp earned more playing time.

Taylor said he'll have to improve his fundamentals if he wants to play more.

"One of the things that jumps out at you is the fact that he has an unbelievable amount of talent," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "His skill level is unusual. He's got speed, he's got length, he's tough, and I think with him, he was a bit of a young player. But I think now you're starting to see some of these guys develop. He's one of those guys.

"He's a very important part of what we do."

Last season, Taylor finished with 15 tackles, one for loss and one sack, so a small step back in terms of impact plays. But he should have an opportunity in camp to earn a bigger role now that Johnson is gone. Jones and Ziggy Ansah remain the starters, but Taylor, Tapp and others should compete for the backup roles.

Though he doesn't appear to be in danger of being a surprise cut, Taylor's ability to play inside should help him be more involved, too. He just has to adjust to the quickness required inside, but if he does, his speed could be a weapon against opposing guards.

"I have no idea what their plan is for me. I'm just here to get better and do what I can," Taylor said.