LIONS INSIDER

2017 training camp preview: Linebacker

Posted Jul 13, 2017

Tim Twentyman previews the linebacker position heading into training camp.

On roster: Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Antwione Williams, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Nick Bellore, Thurston Armbrister, Steve Longa, Brandon Chubb (IR)

Key losses: DeAndre Levy, Josh Bynes, Jon Bostic

Making cut: Davis, Worrilow, Williams, Whitehead, Reeves-Maybin

On the bubble: Bellore, Armbrister, Longa

Best competition: Who starts at the WILL?

We know Davis is slotted into the MIKE and it’s looked to be a good fit for him through the course of the offseason.

The real competition will be for his running mate at the WILL. Whitehead is making the shift from the MIKE to the WILL this season, but he missed all the OTAs and the mandatory minicamp due to injury. He’s expected to be ready to go at the start of training camp. How quickly can he adjust to the position change?

Worrilow, who the Lions targeted in free agency, started alongside Davis at the WILL through the offseason training program. He’s a veteran player with starting experience in this league.

The Lions selected Reeves-Maybin in the fourth round out of Tennessee because of his speed and cover skills. He could be in the mix at the WILL, depending on how quickly he picks up the defense and adjusts to the speed at this level.

Williams will also get a good look. He’s expected to take a big leap in his second season in Teryl Austin’s defense.

The Lions are in the sub package around 65 percent of the time, which means they only play two linebackers most the time. So, whoever emerges as the second-best option behind Davis will likely win the starting WILL spot.

The Lions have options at the WILL and it'll be fun to watch and see who emerges through training camp and the preseason.

2016 stats
PlayerGamesTackSoloSacksINTFF
Tahir Whitehead 15 132 99 0.0 0 0
Paul Worrilow+ 12 21 14 0.0 0 0
Antwione Williams 14 27 17 0.0 0 0
Nick Bellore# 14 83 60 1.0 1 1
Thurston Armbrister 14 15 14 0.0 0 0
Steve Longa 1 0 0 0.0 0 0
Jarrad Davis* 9 60 29 2.0 0 0
Jalen Reeves-Maybin* 4 20 12 0.0 0 0
+ with ATL     # with SF     * college stats

Twentyman’s take: Besides Davis and Reeves-Maybin, this is an experienced group of Lions linebackers with a nice mix of skill sets.

The Lions desperately needed to add playmakers to this group, which is why GM Bob Quinn selected Davis and Reeves-Maybin among his first four picks, and sought out Worrilow and Bellore in free agency. This was a linebacker corps a year ago that failed to record a single sack, interception or forced fumble. There simply weren’t enough impact plays from that unit.

It was also a position group that needed to be better against the pass. Whitehead was targeted 84 times last season and allowed 64 receptions and seven touchdowns, per STATS, INC. The 64 receptions allowed was tops among all linebackers and third most among any NFL defender last season.

Davis is expected to provide an immediate spark in the center of that defense and he’ll need to if Detroit is going to improve on last year's 18th ranked overall defense.

This is a unit that needed to get faster and they did that by drafting Davis and Reeves-Maybin.

By the numbers:

114.35: Opponents’ passer rating when the Lions blitzed last season.

132: Tackles by Whitehead in 15 games last year was tied for the ninth most in the NFL with Baltimore’s Zach Orr.

53.7: Percentage of successful plays allowed (anytime the offense gains 40 percent of the yards necessary for a first down on first down, 50 percent of the yardage necessary for a first down on second down or gains the first down on third or fourth down) by the Lions defense last season, which was the highest in the NFL.

Quotable: “I think when you play in some of those advanced schemes where you’re doing a lot of different things, it helps when you come to this level because things are going to be kind of the same,” Austin said of Davis playing in an advanced defensive scheme in college at Florida.

“The terminology may be different, maybe a little bit different technique, but overall it’s similar and you can adapt to it and I think that’s what he’s doing.”