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Lions GM places premium on speed, athleticism

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Lions have a need for speed.

For those who dismiss the value of the scouting combine and pro days, they are still extremely important to Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn and his staff.

Asked about the importance of speed and athleticism when evaluating prospects at the team’s annual season-ticket holder summit at Ford Field Thursday evening, Quinn didn’t hesitate with his response.

“It’s the top thing that we look at, especially at certain positions,” Quinn said.

Even with the small sample size, you don’t have to look far to figure out the positions Quinn is referencing. While the team has a clear preference for top-tier athletes at all spots, most of the linebackers and defensive backs he’s added to the roster during his two offseason have profiled with elite speed and explosion, as indicated by their vertical and broad jumps.

“The National Football League, in the past 10 years, has turned into a passing league,” Quinn said. “We talk about it daily, for the past month, we’re in our sub — dime or nickel — defense 70-plus percent of the time. The days of us having three linebackers on the field are very, very few.

“Speed and athleticism to play against three-wide-receiver sets and athletic tight ends is paramount in our league, paramount in our division. It’s one of the first things we look at and we can really disqualify draft prospects because they’re not fast enough, not quick enough.”

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Looking at linebacker, a position of need, it would suggest the Lions would be thrilled to land a prospect like Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, who posted elite numbers in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps. It would also appear to reduce the chances the team targets Alabama standout Ryan Anderson, who had one of the slower 40 times at the combine and logged a disappointing 28.5-inch vertical at his pro day.

In the defensive backfield, Quinn should have no problem finding top-tier athletes in this stacked cornerback class.

In addition to speed and athleticism, Quinn said it’s critical to determine a player’s passion for the game.

“These guys are well-compensated, but these guys work long hours,” Quinn said. “If you don’t really love what you’re doing as an NFL player, you’re really not going to be as good as your talent will allow you to be.”

Leading up to the combine, players are coached on the interview process. Quinn said it’s important for his staff to come up with creative, pointed questions to get genuine answers. He noted they have their best luck learning about prospects at the college all-star games in late January and early February, before the players’ interview skills have been refined.

“It’s an important part of the process because as coach (Jim Caldwell) and I travel around the country and meet with some of these kids, or some of them come to Detroit for interviews, it’s much easier to take a guy that you have a comfort level with as a person,” Quinn said. “You can look them in the eye and ask them some questions, ask them some pointed questions, and usually if you get the answers you like, you feel comfortable where they are on your board.”

The NFL draft will be held in Philadelphia, April 27-29.

jdrogers@detnews.com

Twitter: @justin_rogers