New Lions DTs Spence, Hill attack with ‘havoc’ on their minds

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
The Jets' Dakota Dozier and Jonathan Harrison double team the Lions' Jordan Hill at the line in the third quarter Saturday night.

Detroit – There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when the Detroit Lions possessed the most feared defensive tackle rotation in the NFL. Those days came to a screeching halt when Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley packed their bags and took their talent elsewhere.

And while no one is going to mistake Detroit’s present collective for the Suh-led wrecking crew from a few years back, the current rotation is shaping up to be a highly disruptive bunch who have the potential to be a factor week in and week out.

Haloti Ngata needs no introduction, but at 33, the five-time All-Pro is in peak physical condition. In joint practices with the Colts a week ago, he routinely flashed the dominance that has defined his career. And A’Shawn Robinson, the team’s other projected starter, appears primed for a breakout following a stellar rookie campaign in 2016.

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But a good starting tandem is only half the battle in Detroit, where the team relies on a heavy rotation of attacking big men to stress opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. They may have found the right complements on the open market this offseason with the signings of Akeem Spence and Jordan Hill.

The lure of Detroit’s playing style, and a three-year, $9 million contract, lured Spence to Detroit.

“The way they play it, the D-tackles, we get upfield, we cause havoc,” Spence said. “I don’t know too many defensive tackles, that with the freedom that we have here, wouldn’t want to be a part of it. When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it.”

And despite early careers marred by inconsistent performance, both new additions have looked at home in the Honolulu blue. The energetic Spence jumped off the page from the moment he stepped on the field during the team’s 16-6 preseason victory over the Jets, blasting through the line on back-to-back snaps, resulting in a sack and a tackle on a run play.

“Just seeing how Haloti and A’Shawn started off the game, just stoning those guys in the backfield,” Spence said. “Hey, I’m up next. I wanted some of that. I just went out there with that same mentality and got a lot of penetration. Just feeding off of one another, I feed off of those guys.”

Hill, who had a strong showing in the team’s public scrimmage at Ford Field earlier this month, is getting back into the swing of things after missing a week of practice with an undisclosed injury. Against the Jets, he didn’t have the same impact on the box score as Spence, but was also notably disruptive.

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The pairing is unique, if only because both Spence and Hill are 6-foot-1, which is generally considered undersized for the position. But in Detroit’s scheme, as long as they can get off the ball quickly and attack their gap assignment consistently, it works.

“They have quickness and they have power,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “You can see Spence is like a whirling dervish in there, sometimes. He can put some pressure on you, stays low. Jordan is one of those guys, too, that has an unusual quickness, but he also, in terms of his attack, he has bulk.”