Detroit New reporters Justin Rogers and John Niyo talk about the Lions' season-opening matchup with the New York Jets. Justin Rogers and John Niyo, The Detroit News
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions swapped out defensive linemen earlier this week, claiming defensive end Romeo Okwara off waivers and waiving Anthony Zettel.
The move hasn’t gone over well with some Lions fans, who saw Zettel develop into a key contributor on the defensive line last season, playing more snaps than anyone on the unit and finishing the year with 6.5 sacks.
But Zettel wasn’t an ideal fit for coach Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme, which leans on the front four controlling multiple gaps, instead of the upfield attack Zettel played and had success in the past two seasons.
And while some lineman have a skill set that translates to both schemes, Zettel was hindered by one specific attribute, his arm length.
In recent weeks, Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn have pointed out length as a positive attribute of two recent additions, Okwara and rush linebacker Eli Harold.
Coming out of Notre Dame, Okwara’s arms were measured at 34⅛ inches. Harold’s were a more modest 33 inches. Still, both were noticeably longer than Zettel’s 31⅛-inch arm measurement from the 2016 combine.
To put that into perspective, only two defensive linemen, and one defensive end, had shorter arms among those measured at the combine this year.
Patricia is very careful to never spell out ideal traits, for any position. He understands there are exceptions to any rule and doesn’t want to miss out on a potential contributor because he has some artificial constraint. Look no further than future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, who dominated at left tackle for the 11 years in Cleveland despite well below-average arm length.
But in Patricia’s scheme, with a focus on controlling gaps, there’s a benefit to having above-average length.
“I think for us, it’s certainly something that’s an advantage if they use it,” Patricia said. “Those guys that do play with good length and have good leverage, sometimes at the line of scrimmage, create more separation. They’re able to kind of see into the backfield a little bit better when they can do that.
“Those offensive linemen are pretty big, so when they’re just down on top of you real tight, it can be hard to see around them," Patricia said. "So, if you can create that separation and that space, it gives you a little bit more vision to see the play, see the ball carrier, and be able to have a chance to come off and make the play.”
The good news for Zettel is it didn’t take long to find a new home. In fact, four teams reportedly placed a waiver claim on the former Lion, including NFC North rivals Green Bay and Minnesota. He was ultimately awarded to the Cleveland Browns, the team with the highest waiver priority.