ALLEN PARK -- With defensive ends Kalimba Edwards and Jared DeVries once again under contract, it appears the Lions will keep their strongest and most consistent unit intact for the 2006 season.
Though neither Edwards nor DeVries started a single game last season, they are two of the components that made the Lions' defensive line a force to be reckoned with during most of the past season.
Both got a chance to test the free agency waters briefly, but both re-signed quickly with the Lions.
Edwards, 26, led the Lions with seven quarterback sacks and, though he has battled injury problems and has failed to perform at the level the team anticipated when he was taken in the second round of the 2002 draft, he has the speed that lights up the eyes of new coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson.
Although he has started only three games in seven seasons, DeVries is content with his role in the Lions' defensive line rotation.
"Obviously, my role in years past has been primarily as a backup at different positions - right, left end, sometimes inside," DeVries said. "I've played some on special teams - on kickoff return, field goal block, sometimes in punt situations or punt returns.
"Every team needs role players and, obviously, we all want to be starters, but when coaches decide whatever it may be, you accept that role and do it to the best of your ability. Hopefully, it helps the team."
DeVries agreed to terms of a five-year contract, on the heels of what was probably his best season with three quarterback sacks, a blocked field goal attempt (Dec. 11 vs. Green Bay) and two fumble recoveries.
DeVries, who will be 30 in June, is a seven-year veteran who might be described best as a grinder. As part of that defensive line rotation, he has filled virtually every role on the front four with the persistence and intensity coaches love.
Though he has never had more than three sacks in a season, his position coaches and teammates appreciate him for the fact he carries out assignments to perfection and seldom blows a play.
In addition to the return of both Edwards and DeVries, the possible return of 12-year pro Dan Wilkinson (who has considered retirement) will hand Detroit all of last year's starters. That includes Pro Bowl tackle Shaun Rogers pairing with Wilkinson inside and Cory Redding and James Hall at the ends, with a rotation that includes DeVries, Edwards and defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Marcus Bell.
After playing five years under offensive-minded coaches (Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci), the Lions' defenders are enthused about playing under Marinelli, a former defensive line coach at Tampa Bay.
"As soon as he got the job, I called down to a good friend of mine - (fullback) Mike Alstott down in Tampa Bay - and he had nothing but high praise," DeVries said. "Obviously, he's an offensive guy, but he had nothing but praise for coach."
The Lions have started their off-season conditioning program and by the time it's over later this spring, they will probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect from new coach Rod Marinelli.
Since being hired two months ago, Marinelli has talked about toughness, discipline and getting back to basics. And those are some of the things he says he is stressing in the off-season program.
Asked about his message to the players during their first week of work, Marinelli said: "Habits, the habits I want. Create the proper habits, the work habits I'm working for, the leadership and the consistency, the mental toughness I want.
"I want to be a team that can overachieve. That's a big message but it starts one step at a time, one day in the weight room, whatever we're doing in a meeting, how to meet properly, how to listen, how to communicate properly. Just the very basic things, like how to get in a good stance.
"I'm not going to overlook any phase of it. It's all about details, this game is. And it's not who has the talent but whose talent plays good consistently for 16 weeks."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love men who love football. They want to be around, they want to compete, they want to create the habits that I want." - Coach Rod Marinelli on the type of players he wants for the Lions.