No extra incentive for Lions’ ex-Bengals Jones, Gilberry

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Marvin Jones

Allen Park – For the past four seasons, Marvin Jones and Wallace Gilberry suited up for the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones was a fifth-round draft pick for the organization in 2012, while Gilberry signed as a low-priority free agent that year and parlayed early success into a lengthy stint as a key contributor on the team’s talented defensive line.

Jones and Gilberry are in Detroit now, part of rookie general manager Bob Quinn’s first free-agent class. Jones was the crown jewel of the group, inking a five-year deal to fill Calvin Johnson’s spot in the starting the lineup. The 31-year-old Gilberry received a one-year offer and is expected to bring some veteran stability to the team’s group of young edge rushers.

On Thursday, the pair will get the opportunity to line up against their former team when the Lions host the Bengals at Ford Field for the second preseason game for both squads. For some players, this could be an opportunity to show their former employer what they let walk out the door, but for Jones and Gilberry, there’s nothing special about the matchup.

“Uh, not really. It’s preseason,” Jones said. “If it was the regular season, it would definitely have a lot more meaning. But it’s still going to be fun. I haven’t seen those guys in a long time.”

Jones left the Bengals on good terms. He was open to staying with the franchise, but was eager to spread his wings in an offense where he could play a bigger role.

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Despite averaging 58 receptions, 758 yards and seven touchdowns the last two years he played in Cincinnati, Jones was always going to be second fiddle to perennial Pro Bowler A.J. Green. In Detroit, where Johnson’s retirement created a big void, the Lions offered an opportunity the Bengals couldn’t match.

It was a business decision, one players make all the time. Still, Jones maintains a strong bond with many of his former teammates.

“Me, AJ, Andy (Dalton) and Mo Sanu and Andrew Hawkins, who is now with the Browns, we still talk almost every day in group chats,” Jones said.

Wallace Gilberry

And while this matchup barely moves the needle for Jones, Gilberry’s attitude toward playing the Bengals borders on apathetic.

“I couldn’t care less,” he said. “I’m just focusing on understanding this scheme and this terminology and being the best Lion I can be.”

Gilberry is currently serving as the third man in Detroit’s defensive end rotation, behind starters Ezekiel Ansah and Devin Taylor.  The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Gilberry also slides inside on clear passing-down situations.

To the untrained eye, Detroit and Cincinnati have similar defensive schemes. They both operate a 4-3 base defense predicated on attacking the backfield, but Gilberry notes the systems are actually very different. That’s why his focus is on himself, not the opponent, during the preseason.

“I won’t go into details, but it’s a night-and-day difference,” he said. “I’m still trying to fit in. We’ve got a couple things working, but overall, I’m still trying to learn this system, this terminology.”

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On the whole, the Lions are expected to ramp up their usage of veteran players in this contest.  Last year, the starters played most of the first quarter in the second preseason game.

For coach Jim Caldwell, his focus will be on his players executing the fundamentals, blocking, route running, tackling.

The last one carries extra emphasis, since the Lions don’t tackle in practice to avoid unnecessary injuries.

“One of the things that you typically suffer from is not tackling well during the preseason, as you’re tackling the first couple games,” Caldwell said. “Our tackling wasn’t perfect (in the preseason opener), but I think we did some things that were OK. This game will give us another challenge because they’ve got some guys that can really move and make you miss.”