LIONS INSIDER

Ashlee Palmer has a great chance to win starting linebacker spot

Posted May 15, 2013

While Palmer is the early favorite to join Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy as the Lions starting linebackers Week 1 vs. Minnesota, he knows he’ll have to earn the job this spring and through training camp

Ashlee Palmer is entering his fifth season in the NFL and his fourth year with the Detroit Lions.
Ashlee PalmerLB Ashlee Palmer (Photo: AP Images)

In four NFL seasons, he's made nine career starts, seven of those in Detroit. Palmer has an opportunity to exponentially increase that number in 2013, if can win the Lions' vacant starting outside linebacker spot.

The team likely had Palmer in mind for the position when they signed him to a two-year extension late last season and then let Justin Durant walk in free agency (Dallas).

While Palmer is the early favorite to join Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy as the Lions starting linebackers Week 1 vs. Minnesota, he knows he'll have to earn the job this spring and through training camp with a couple young bucks in Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis on his heels.

That competition could turn out to be one of the better ones in camp.

"Me, Tahir and Travis are pushing each other," Palmer said. "I may be a veteran, but that doesn't mean ‘hey, here's your spot.' I tell those guys every day that I'm going to push them as hard as possible. I want the spot, don't get me wrong, but it's fun competition.

"It brings out the best in players. That's what you want in players because you can really see how talented a player you have when guys are competing for something that they all really want."

Whitehead, whom the Lions gave up a fourth-round pick in this this year's draft so they could move up in the fifth round to get him last year, is likely to be Palmer's stiffest competition.

"Of course someone needs to fill the spot, but it hasn't really changed anything amongst us," Whitehead said. "Me and Ashlee talk all the time, he says he's going to push me and I let him know, I'm going to push him as well.

"Even with Travis Lewis. We all say the same thing to each other, somebody's got to get it."

Palmer was the fourth linebacker last year behind Tulloch, Levy and Durant and made two spot starts on the outside against Seattle and Jacksonville when Levy injured a hamstring. He started five games in his first season with the Lions in 2010.

Now entering year four in the scheme, Palmer says his comfort level is sky high.

"I feel like I have a good grasp on the scheme here," he said. "That's just how it goes. Tully has eight years in the same system. Levy has five years in the system. That kind of chemistry can build a lot.

"When I first got here, I came into a new scheme and was thrown into the fire right away. I didn't know what I was doing. Four years later, understanding the playbook, getting the repetitious reps, I feel like I have a good grasp of how they want things done here."

The one benefit Palmer does have over the others – besides experience – is the fact that he knows, and has played, both inside and outside. The Lions would prefer their linebackers to be interchangeable and know all three spots.

Like Palmer, Levy has played both inside and outside. The Lions covet that kind of versatility.

Palmer played the 'MIKE' linebacker spot a lot last offseason while Tulloch was dealing with tendinitis in his knee.

"Learning the 'mike' helped me out with my outside stuff," Palmer said. "The two outside spots aren't really much of a difference, but that 'mike' spot is really where you have to know everything that's going on and know the defense.

"Playing the 'mike' just helped me know where my outside guys were going to be, once I got a good grasp of playing 'mike', I definitely got a good grasp on the whole defense."

Palmer is finally getting his first real chance to be a starter five years into his NFL career. He plans to make the most of that opportunity.