A core that many expected to shine in its second full season together played duller than a pocket flashlight pointed at the sun. The trio combined for a forced fumble and one whole sack. Yay, go team! What was their interception total, you ask? Let me take you behind closed doors and rewrite the inspirational pep talk coach Jim Schwartz gave his linebacking crew to achieve such a wild number.
“Hey Justin, remember when you got half of a sack that one time?” asked Schwartz inquisitively.
“Ha yea coach,” Durant nodded.
“And Deandre ya remember when you made that tackle!?” exclaimed Schwartz.
“Shucks coach, how could I forget?” Levy smiled.
“And I couldn’t overlook our anchor Mr. Tulloch. How sweet was that forced fumble?”
“Cherry pie sir,” Tulloch triumphed.
“Cherry pie,” Tulloch repeated himself.
“Well boys, now here’s the dream: I figure since we already have a sack and a forced fumble we go for two interceptions. That equals our total number of sacks and forced fumbles if we added them together. What do ya say? I’m thinkin’ two will do for me and you! C’mon guys! I said c’mon.”
And the coach’s crew chanted with him:“Two, two, two, two, twooo!”
That chant became a motto, and that motto became a reality. The Lion linebackers went on to attain two interceptions last season. Brings a tear to the eye, don’t it?
And so what if this didn’t actually happen? Do you have a better explanation as to how these Lions got their two interceptions?
Disclaimer: The quotes used in this article by no means represent actual words said by any of the aforementioned Detroit Lions. Stay classy Schwartz
Let’s go to the grades, shall we?
Stephen Tulloch (5-foot-11, 240 pounds) is a sure tackler with a punishing style of play. He is solid at sniffing out runs to stop backs at the line of scrimmage. Tulloch is looked at as a high character workhorse in the locker room with fine leadership qualities on and off the field. However, Tulloch lacks the speed needed to be an elite linebacker. Tulloch does not have the athleticism to be a quality pass defender, and in a league with tight ends bigger and faster than ever he cannot compete. Tulloch could also stand to add a couple of extra inches to his shorter frame, but at 28 years old a growth spurt is out of the question. Overall, the team-voted captain is a very good football player who gets the most out of his abilities.
MLB Grade: B+
Deandre Levy (6-foot-2, 238 pounds)provides a skill set totally opposite to Tulloch’s. Levy possesses solid speed that aids his pass coverage, but the 25-year-old has a lot of room to improve against the run. He has similar size to Tulloch but does not use it in the same menacing way. Lions GM Martin Mayhew expressed over the offseason a strong desire for guys who can make their presence felt at any given moment, but Levy has been anything but this in his four years with Detroit. Although he is still young, it’s safe to bet Levy will never be that guy because of consistently decent but unspectacular play.
LOLB Grade: C+
Ashlee Palmer (6-foot-2, 223 pounds) is the front runner to start out of a group that has primarily played special teams. Palmer is believed to be the favorite because he is the most experienced being the only one to have actually started an NFL game. The 27-year-old has racked up only nine starts in his four-year career. In his two starts last season he accumulated a decent 9 tackles, and as the top backup I noticed nice football instinct but nothing special. While Palmer has made a name for himself as a pro bowl special teams ace, I wouldn’t expect a lot in the 223-pound Palmer as a full-time linebacker; however, the Lions must see something that I don’t. Last year’s starter Justin Durant wanted to resign with Detroit over treading free agency waters, but the Lions let him leave to the Cowboys without putting up any fight. Durant’s deal is cheaper than the contract the Lions gave a year ago to then-backup Palmer, so if the Lions wanted to keep their former starter they could have done so quite easily. Keep an eye on the production of each linebacker this season to see if the Lions kept the right guy.
ROLB Grade: D+
Tahir Whitehead (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) does not have any whiteheads on his pretty, little face. But seriously, this is a beautiful man. On the field the rook is coming off a season in which he only played on special teams. The 5th round pick came from a 3-4 scheme in college, but the 4-3 schemed Lions still saw enough in the guy to trade up for him. Whitehead has nice athleticism and power that the Lions could not help but notice when he forced two fumbles in the first week of the 2012 season. He has more raw ability than Palmer and Lewis but is also less proven. Whitehead is a total wildcard that could eventually usurp Palmer or be a dud.
Travis Lewis (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) dropped a few rounds form his expected landing spot in the last year’s draft. He was a nice snag for Detroit, but as a 7th rounder he should not be counted on for quality minutes. In his college career with Oklahoma he became the school’s third ranked tackler of all-time, but the third worst 40-time (4.86) among linebackers along with an overall weak combine nearly killed his draft stock. The NFL may be too fast for Lewis to really contribute, but there is still time for him to prove his naysayers wrong.
Overall Linebacker Grade: C
Overall summary: The utter lack of depth is a major concern. If Tulloch got injured this group of linebackers would likely stick their heads in a toilet, but luckily he rarely misses a snap. Unless Palmer or another young Lion breaks out this group will be slightly worse than last season’s boring, average squad.
On another note, cherry pie tastes good with ice cream. I think I’m going to have some.