By Ashley Dunkak

ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Head coach Jim Schwartz likens this year’s defensive line to the unit of 2011, when the Detroit Lions went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

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That year, Schwartz said, the line carried the Detroit defense. He thinks the 2013 group is similarly capable.

“Our defensive line is different this year, but I think we have the potential to be just as effective, if not more,” Schwartz said. “It’s a much bigger defensive line. The dynamics there are a little bit different. Same scheme, but maybe a little different executions of that scheme.”

Part of what made the defensive line so important in 2011, Schwartz said, were the injuries that hampered the secondary. The 2013 unit might bear the same sort of burden. While the Lions made acquisitions that Schwartz said make the secondary stronger, the linchpin of that group is still something of a question mark.

This offseason the Lions signed safety Louis Delmas, a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010 and 2011, to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. He had surgery on his right knee in 2011 and on his left knee in 2012. This summer he did not participate in OTAs or mini-camp.

With only a week remaining in July, Delmas should finally be getting some participation.

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Schwartz said that, barring something unexpected when Delmas undergoes his physical Thursday, Delmas will have a limited role in training camp over the next couple weeks.

“He needs to practice, but it’s probably going to be counterproductive for him to practice every single day,” Schwartz said. “Rather than reacting to if he has something that flares up, I think we’ll start with the approach of trying to be preemptive and try to keep something from flaring up when it comes to a guy like Lou. He’s very important to our team, he’s very important to our defense, to our secondary.”

Besides needing Delmas to practice just because of what he brings to the defense as an individual, the Lions want Delmas getting acclimated to Glover Quin, a four-year veteran safety Detroit acquired from the Houston Texans this offseason.

“We need to get Lou and Glover together on the field and create that kind of camaraderie and synergy and things like that between those two guys because there’s a lot of unspoken communication between the two safeties,” Schwartz said. “They’re, in a lot of ways, the quarterbacks of the defense, and it’s very important to be able to get some practice time. We just need to balance that without overextending them.”

Schwartz said he is more confident heading into the 2013 season than any other year he has been with the Lions. He said that all 32 NFL coaches feel the same way but that Detroit has tangible reasons for optimism about its team.

“We’re deeper in the secondary,” Schwartz said. “We’re more talented in the secondary, and I think we have just as much potential to be really good up front.

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“But again, it’s potential,” he added, “and how much we can realize that potential is only going to be determined through hard work and training camp and preseason games and through the regular season.”