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Lions’ Hill lost for season, opening door for beefed-up Ledbetter

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Jeremiah Ledbetter

Allen Park – The Detroit Lions have lost another defensive lineman to a season-ending injury. On Sunday, the team announced tackle Jordan Hill has been placed on injured reserve with a bicep injury.

Hill, added as a free agent this offseason, was trending toward a sizeable role in the team’s defensive tackle rotation. Throughout training camp and the preseason, coaches and teammates had spoken highly of his pairing with Akeem Spence, another free-agent addition.

This is another injury setback for Hill, a former third-round draft pick. He’s missed extensive time since 2015 with multiple issues. He’s the second Lions defensive lineman to suffer a serious injury during the preseason. Starting defensive end Kerry Hyder tore his Achilles earlier this month.

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With Hill out, the Lions are left looking for a fourth interior option for the rotation. The most obvious answer is rookie Jeremiah Ledbetter, the team’s sixth-round pick out of Arkansas.

An undersized tweener coming out of college, he’s rapidly packed on the pounds working with the team’s nutritionist and weight staff. When he joined the team in May, he was 278 pounds. Now, the 6-foot-3 tackle is tipping the scales at 295 pounds.

Jordan Hill

“That process has been really smooth,” Ledbetter said. “They have everything provided for us, from the protein shakes to the weight-lifting program.

“When I was around 278, I would just eat breakfast and dinner,” he said. “Here, it’s breakfast, snack in between, lunch, another snack, dinner and a snack going home. I don’t know how many calories, maybe 5,000 plus. I’m never hungry.”

The Lions were drawn to Ledbetter’s speed and explosiveness. His measurables were among some of the best at his position in this draft class. And, as far as he can tell, he hasn’t lost any of that athleticism, despite carrying nearly 20 extra pounds.

But like teammate A’Shawn Robinson last year, Ledbetter is also having to adjust to a different playing style as a rookie. In college, he was a two-gap defender, focused on absorbing multiple blocks to free up his team’s linebackers. In Detroit, every lineman is expected to attack and penetrate the backfield.

It’s a difficult adjustment, but the Lions like the way he’s trending.

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“He’s getting a little bit better every day,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “It’s a challenging spot when you’ve got so much going on around you in terms of handling different schemes, and looks and types of body types you have to deal with. We like what he’s doing at this point and I think he’ll be up for the challenge, so he keeps working. He’s got the right kind of attitude and he’s got physical talent.”

The Lions play their final preseason game Thursday in Buffalo. It’s an important game for Ledbetter, who is looking to prove he’s not only deserving of a roster spot, but capable of filling Hill’s shoes.

“It’s huge for me,” Ledbetter said. “As far as me making the team, me getting more experience as time goes on, it’s just a huge game for me to play in and make plays.”

Lions add another DT

To fill the roster spot created by Hill going on IR, the Lions signed defensive tackle Jordan Lott.

Undrafted out of Chattanooga in 2015, Lott proved to be an effective pass rusher his senior season, recording six sacks.

The 6-foot-4, 314-pounder ran a sub-5.0 40-yard dash coming out of college, while putting up 30 reps in the bench press. He has spent time on rosters in Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Oakland.