Detroit Lions positional battle: Linebackers

Heading into the third week of preseason, the Detroit Lions are going to begin simulating games to look more like the regular season. Jim Caldwell stated, “we have to adjust to give them as much (of a simulation) as we possibly can of what it’s going to look like.”

The Lions’ defense, particularly the secondary, has been criticized for their inability to become an integral part of winning games. However, during the first two preseason games, the Lions’ defense has looked much better than last season.

The defensive line hasn’t been a major issue for the Lions recently with players like Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and C.J. Mosley. Although there is a critical need for cornerback and safety battles to be solidified, the linebacker position is the most important position for this defense to be successful. So far, they have been living up to the standards and expectations for this season.

Here are the current linebackers, with the Lions likely keeping six on the roster. The last two linebackers, Julian Stanford and Brandon Hepburn, will likely remain on the practice squad.

DeAndre Levy

DeAndre Levy

  1. DeAndre Levy, OLB
  2. Stephen Tulloch, MLB
  3. Ashlee Palmer, OLB
  4. Kyle Van Noy, OLB
  5. Tahir Whitehead
  6. Travis Lewis
  7. Brandon Hepburn
  8. Julian Stanford

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has integrated a more aggressive approach for the linebackers, giving them a chance to blitz on more plays. Ashlee Palmer is a fan of the new system. “I love it. It’s giving us a chance to get after the quarterback more, instead of sitting back and letting the quarterback dictate what we do.”

This aggression is made possible by using the 4-3 “over” scheme more often than the 4-3 “under”. This means the open side defensive end will generally line up from a wider stance, rather than directly under the offensive tackle. This will allow them to get a jump around the offensive line in order to pressure the quarterback.

This leaves the starting linebackers, Ashlee Palmer, DeAndre Levy, and Stephen Tulloch, with the ability to come in with a blitz. The SAM linebacker position implemented this year involves one outside linebacker sometimes lining up on the line of scrimmage, with the potential to blitz the quarterback or drop off in coverage.

Currently, it seems Tulloch will be the starting middle linebacker, Levy will play outside linebacker, and Palmer will line up as the SAM linebacker. Kyle Van Noy is fighting for this SAM position as well. During Friday’s game against the Raiders, Palmer and Van Noy both lined up on the line of scrimmage multiple times and seemed to get good pressure on the quarterback and offensive line. The linebackers also proved to compete well on the inside against the run.

Palmer is the veteran for the strong side position while Van Noy is entering his rookie year. With Van Noy being praised for his versatility, he might be poised to overtake Palmer for the start at the SAM, outside linebacker position.

Linebacker Tahir Whitehead should make the roster as well as Travis Lewis if the team keeps six players in this position, but they should remain second team throughout the season and see time on special teams.

  • Tom Emerson

    Good article. Describes the competition for a spot really well. It will be interesting to watch it play out. On another note. Maybe consider the receivers competition and point out Ryan Broyles battle to make the team.