ALLEN PARK, Mich. - The Detroit Lions don't have a lot of good memories of the Matt Millen era.
They are hoping that Cliff Avril can be one of them.
Avril, a third-round pick in 2008, has 10.5 sacks in his two seasons, but has struggled against the run and never given Detroit a consistent pass rusher.
This season, the defensive end will have to improve his performance against the run in order to earn a regular role on Detroit's revamped defensive line.
"I've got a lot of work to do," Avril said.
"We've got a lot of new guys here, and I know I've got to get better."
Lions coach Jim Schwartz thinks Avril is off to a good start, saying he has made good progress toward becoming a consistent, full-time player.
"Cliff is still a young guy, and at times last year, he played like that," Schwartz said.
"But he's taken a step forward in that department. He has had a very, very consistent camp."
Schwartz is most pleased that Avril is showing some versatility on the field.
"We know the skills he has as a pass rusher, but we're seeing more from him this year," he said.
"He's doing a better job at the point of attack in the run game."
Avril says that the improvement is a combination of several factors, starting with his own hard work.
"I know that I've got the talent around me that I should be able to take a big step forward this year, so I'm working hard at it," he said.
"I've got a better understanding of what I'm doing out there, and of what the whole defense is doing."
Avril has also picked up valuable lessons from newly acquired veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams.
"It's great to be able to pick those guys' brains," he said. "It's been awesome to be on the field with two guys like that, and with a young kid like Ndamukong [Suh]. We're all learning from each other, and we're starting to mesh as a unit."
Avril, though, knows that Saturday's preseason opener against Pittsburgh will be the biggest test of the new unit.
"We're ready to get out there and hit someone other than our own offensive linemen," he said.
"We know what they can do, but we need to work against someone else for a change."
Schwartz is equally ready to see how well Avril and his linemates handle someone other than the Detroit offensive line.
"At this point, our defensive linemen know all of the offensive line's blocking schemes, and the offense knows every defensive lineman's pass-rush moves," he said.
"That's not going to be the case on Saturday."
NOTES: Schwartz said that he has not decided on a quarterback rotation for the Steelers game, but acknowledged that the decision will be easier than a year ago, when he was still trying to decide on a starter.
"Last year, we needed to spread the reps with the first team, because we were still trying to make some decisions," he said.
"This year, Matt [Stafford] is the clear starter, so we don't have to worry about that." ... Cornerback Dre' Bly was sidelined by a strained muscle in his thigh, but Schwartz did not expect it to be a long-term problem. ... Schwartz had hoped to have safety Louis Delmas [groin] taking part in team drills yesterday, but decided to err on the side of caution.42.26392 -83.22005
The Detroit Lions don't have a lot of good memories of the Matt Millen era. They are hoping that Cliff Avril can be one of them.