Austin: Lions interior line a 'competitive situation'

Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
A'Shawn Robinson (91)

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions like the team’s depth at defensive tackle, but it’s led to some tricky decisions on Sundays. With five quality options on the roster, and generally just four active on game days, players have gone from the starting lineup one week to being a healthy scratch the next.

Stefan Charles, a free-agent addition, sat two of the first five games. Tyrunn Walker, a starter the first eight weeks, was inactive the game after the Lions returned from the bye. He said the decision is the nature of the business, but still caught him by surprise.

And Khyri Thornton, who replaced Walker in the starting lineup, was suddenly on the outside looking in last weekend.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said the formula for deciding who plays and who doesn’t is simple.

“We try to play whoever’s had the best week of practice and whoever’s played the best, so it’s a really competitive situation,” Austin said. “There was a time earlier in the year we were able to keep them all up, but right now as we’ve gotten a little bit healthier we’ve had to pull back on a position and that’s one of them we pulled back on.”

From top to bottom, Austin said the talent gap between the tackles is slim. Obviously, when healthy, no one is supplanting Haloti Ngata as a starter. And rookie A’Shawn Robinson’s playing time has been in a consistent range all year. That leaves Charles, Walker and Thornton likely battling to stay out of street clothes each week.

“When they come in there, their goal is to not be that fifth guy that week and so, the guys have been great,” Austin said. “Our guys have been awesome throughout the year, ever since we’ve been here. …I think our guys know, you play based on your merit and what you’ve done and so, that’s never been an issue.”

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