Devin Taylor flashed enormous potential during his rookie year with 14 tackles, three for loss, two forced fumbles, 2½ sacks and a pass break-up as the Lions' fourth defensive end for most of the season.
In Year 2, Taylor actually played fewer snaps than in his rookie season as a result of lackluster play and the contributions from backups George Johnson and Darryl Tapp. He had 15 tackles, one for loss and one sack.
During this past offseason, though, Taylor enlisted the help of one of his teammates to help him prepare for his third NFL season as he spent a couple weeks training with Tapp in Virginia. And based on Taylor's performance in training camp, his offseason work has made him a significantly better player.
"That's my guy," Tapp said. "Devin and I gravitated toward each other last year. I've always constantly been in his ear, pushing him.
"He's just like Ziggy (Ansah). The only thing different between him and Ziggy is Ziggy was a first-round pick and Devin was a fourth-rounder."
Physically, there are comparisons to be made between the 6-foot-6, 279-pound Ansah and the 6-foot-7, 275-pound Taylor. Though Ansah had a faster 40-yard dash at the 2013 combine — 4.63 seconds to 4.72 — Taylor posted better marks in the vertical and broad jumps.
The main difference is that Ansah has proven he can have sustained success, but for the Lions defense to generate the necessary pass rush this season, Taylor will have to take a leap as a player.
Thus far in camp, Taylor and Tapp have been the most consistently impressive defensive ends in one-on-one pass rush drills. Obviously, Ansah's daily matchups against left tackle Riley Reiff are tougher than the ones Taylor and Tapp have against right tackle Cornelius Lucas or backups. But Taylor can only do what's asked of him, and he's made some of the Lions' offensive tackles look foolish with his combination of speed, power and varied pass rush moves.
At 6-foot-7, Taylor can create tremendous leverage when he keeps his pads low, and he did a good job of that during camp. In Tuesday's final camp practice, Taylor exploded in his first one-on-one matchup with Lucas and quickly ran around him to reach the imaginary quarterback.
With starter Jason Jones (knee) on the physically unable to perform list, Taylor, Tapp and some of the other backup defensive ends have received more chances to impress during camp. In addition to playing outside, Taylor has received reps at defensive tackle, which could help him become a versatile lineman like Jones.
"He's getting more opportunities, and I think he's taken advantage of that," coach Jim Caldwell said of Taylor. "We'll see how he goes throughout, obviously, the preseason, but he's coming along."
In the preseason opener, Taylor had two tackles and split a sack during his 14 snaps, and as long as he can carry his camp performance into the season, he should be featured more on defense than his previous two years.
"Devin has the same desire (as Ansah) to want to get better," Tapp said. "He has so much potential and desire, it's unbelievable. We constantly stay in those guys ears, make sure they know what they're trying to accomplish, what we're trying to push for as a team and also as individuals.
"Those guys really got to lead us. Devin, Ziggy and Larry (Webster), in the next two to three years, they're going to be your cornerstone ends here."