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Lions' Schwartz says Suh was 'an improved player'

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By Jonah Rosenblum

INDIANAPOLIS — Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has a general philosophy toward free agency of "keeping the good ones," and that philosophy includes veteran OT Jeff Backus.

"Jeff has obviously been an incredibly consistent and durable player for us over a long period of time, over a decade," Schwartz said. "We want to get a vision of keeping good players rather than trying to find out ways to get rid of bad ones, and Jeff certainly fits into keeping the good ones."

Asked about the unfamiliar position of having the Lions' first draft choice come late in the first round, Schwartz pointed out that the last picks of the first round aren't all that different from the first picks of the second round, where Detroit has had considerable success in the past. Schwartz pointed to several early second-round steals in recent years, including WR Titus Young and S Louis Delmas.

Detroit also selected highly productive TE Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, just three spots earlier than its first-round pick this year.

"You never know what's going to happen in the draft, you never know what things are going to change, what's going to transpire in front of you. We don't have a lot of experience picking late in the first round (for) our first pick of the draft," Schwartz said, before turning to past early second-round picks. "All of those guys sort of fit in that same category: They're not top 10 picks of the draft but they've all turned into very good productive players for us."

Speaking of past picks, Schwartz addressed concerns about the Lions' second overall pick from the 2010 NFL Draft, Ndamukong Suh, and his statistical downturn in 2011. The head coach said that perhaps expectations were a little too high after Suh's 10-sack rookie campaign.

"Usually when you talk about rookies and young players, you're saying they played a lot better than the stats indicate and his rookie year, he also had the stats," Schwartz said. "It's very, very difficult for a defensive tackle to get double-digit sacks and he was able to do it as a rookie. When you do that, all the sudden everyone assumes next year, it's going to be 15 and the next year, it's going to be 20."

After recording 66 tackles and 10 sacks in 2010, Suh notched just 36 tackles and four sacks in 2011. Schwartz claimed that was partially a result of offensive lines keying in on Suh, and added that his impact went well beyond the stats sheet.

"Ndamukong played very well this year," Schwartz said, "and I think some of the things that happened with him, particularly the Thanksgiving Day game sort of overshadowed that, but he was an improved player."

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