Lions' Gilberry knows all about fighting for a job

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Wallace Gilberry

In an otherwise young group of defensive ends, 31-year-old Wallace Gilberry looks like someone who could have a sizable role for the Lions this season.

By declining to re-sign Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp, the Lions left themselves a shallow group of pass rushers. Ziggy Ansah is a burgeoning star, and while accumulating seven sacks as a backup last season, Devin Taylor looked ready to become a starter.

But considering how frequently the Lions rotate defensive linemen, the backups will play a lot.

And right now, Gilberry’s top competitors are Brandon Copeland, who made his debut in his third season, and rookies Anthony Zettel, Deonte Gibson, James DeLoach and Louis Palmer (the latter three were undrafted).

But after nine years in the NFL, Gilberry has learned to temper his expectations.

“I just want to come out here and contribute and make this roster,” said Gilberry, who spent the last four years with the Bengals. “That’s my expectation: To make this roster, and the rest will take care of itself.”

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During his career, Gilberry has proven he can be effective on the outside. In 2012, his first season with the Bengals, he had 61/2 sacks, followed by 71/2 in 2013.

Gilberry became the full-time starter in 2014, replacing Michael Johnson after he left for Tampa Bay. Gilberry had 11/2 sacks in 16 starts, but his 13 quarterback hits were more than either of the previous two years. He also doubled his career high with 48 tackles.

Johnson returned to Cincinnati last season and Gilberry returned to a reserve role, but finished with 23 tackles and two sacks.

Behind Gilberry — he signed a a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Lions — the oldest defensive end the Lions have is Ansah, 27.

Something that should ease Gilberry’s transition to Detroit is having wide receiver Marvin Jones as a teammate. The Lions signed Jones, who was with the Bengals the last five years, to a five-year deal a few weeks before adding Gilberry.

Of course, adjusting to a new team is nothing new for Gilberry, who went undrafted out of Alabama in 2008.

“I don’t think about it because I’ve seen guys that come in the second, third round that don’t last two years,” he said. “And I’ve seen guys like myself play a lifetime.”

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He began his career with the Giants, and after getting cut in training camp, joined the Chiefs and stuck for four years, peaking with seven sacks in 2010. Before the 2012 season, Gilberry signed with the Buccaneers, but was cut and then re-signed during camp before being cut again one week into the season.

Fortunately, the Bengals gave Gilberry a chance, and he ran with it. Now, he’ll try to do the same in Detroit.

“I’ve never been comfortable in my nine years in the NFL,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always had to earn something, so it should be no different here.

“You earn your keep and you earn your plays, and hopefully they have enough confidence in me to put me out there. And hopefully (I’ll) make plays.”