Lions linebackers deal with more pressure than meets the eye

Posted Jun 5, 2013

With an attack-first defensive line, Detroit Lions linebackers are counted on to read the actions of their defensive line teammates and react accordingly

A staple of the Detroit Lions' defensive scheme is the attack-first defensive line.

Other defenses call for defensive tackles to "hold their gaps", or keep offensive linemen in certain lanes. The Lions' defense calls for defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to get to the quarterback. Period.

That makes life interesting for Lions' linebackers, who have to read what their teammates in front of them are doing and react quickly and correctly.

"We rely on them to set the tempo upfront," Levy said. "You just have to tune in and find lanes and get in where you fit in, because those guys cause a lot of disruption."

Nick Fairley, Ndamukong SuhDefensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh (Photo: T. Altman/

That means team chemistry is also important.

Levy, Stephen Tulloch and the other Lions' linebackers are working to build that chemistry within their position group and with their defensive line teammates this offseason.

"(Our linebackers) have a little bit different dynamic then people who are coming in are used to," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of playing behind Suh and Fairley. "Just knowing how they're going to play, that is important.

"There's a lot of communication amongst linebackers, and just about all the run stuff, you're playing off the guy in front of you. It’s not necessarily by the book."

The linemen are the headliners and the first wave of defense, but the linebackers are relied upon to fill in the gaps and clean up plays in their attacking scheme, putting a lot of pressure on them.

"It's unique in the way our defense is run," Tulloch said in a recent Sirius NFL Radio interview. "Our defense focuses on, obviously, our D-line. I think they run the show. Once our defensive line goes, our linebackers and secondary, we fall in.

"When you have two disruptive defensive tackles like Suh and Fairley (it) creates situations where offensive linemen need to double (team) or they're double-teamed longer than they are expected to and the linebacker and the secondary can get downhill and make a play either tackle-for-loss or at the line of scrimmage."

Tulloch has played two full seasons in the Lions scheme, which is similar to what he ran in Tennessee when Schwartz was the defensive coordinator. The defensive line attacks and the linebackers read and react.

"When you have a defensive line as athletic as we do, you've got to play off of them," he said. "You're still hitting the A-gap and, for some reason he gets the B-gap, that MIKE linebacker, the other linebacker, has to feed off of that and make it right.

"You have to know your personnel in front of you and how to play off of guys in front of you because it's not always going to be cookie-cutter, A-gap, B-gap, you have to play off of what happens in front of you. We're kind of understanding how to play off of each other. I think it works well for us."

Tulloch said being in the system a long time has helped him. The same can be said for Levy, who was drafted in 2009 in Schwartz's first season as head coach.

But what might separate Ashlee Palmer, Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead – all fighting for the other vacant outside starting spot – is who picks up that aspect of playing the position quickest.

"When you're going 100 mph and attacking, you're not always going to be perfect," Schwartz said. "The only way you can do that is to slow down, and we don't want those guys to slow down."