NOTEBOOK: Whitehead, linebackers showing versatility

Posted Jun 11, 2014

Learning all three spots allows the linebackers to know everyone’s role and the entire defense as a whole.

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch didn’t participate in the Detroit Lions’ second OTA practice on Wednesday for undisclosed reasons. So, manning the middle of the Lions' defense in his place was third-year linebacker Tahir Whitehead.

Whitehead, who has played mostly on the outside his first two seasons in Detroit, has been testing out the middle and the MIKE position for a little more than a week.

Tahir WhiteheadLB Tahir Whitehead (Photo: Detroit Lions)

“We try to rotate a few guys so everyone can get to learn three positions so you can know the whole defense," Whitehead said.

“I never played MIKE until last week, but playing it the last couple weeks I’ve been getting comfortable with it and see myself being able to do it if they need me to.”

Whitehead, who is 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, has also played SAM linebacker this spring, a position that’s much different in the Lions defense than it was in the previous regime. It's more of a versatile on-the-line-of-scrimmage linebacker now.

“He’s an explosive guy,” head coach Jim Caldwell said of Whitehead. “He’s got punch and can run. Certainly, he can direct traffic in there. He’s got a real good feel for things. He’s a good football player. You see him close ground out there on the field.

“The guy can make plays. Obviously, Tully’s (Tulloch) a little bit bigger than he is in terms of weight and girth, not in terms of height. Nevertheless, I still think that he can function in there.”

The Lions drafted Kyle Van Noy to play the SAM, but Whitehead played a similar position in college at Temple, and played the SAM early in OTAs.

“I’m used to (playing the SAM) since college, playing in the nine technique, working out in space,” Whitehead said. “I’m just trying to get comfortable with all three positions so I can be able to be utilized wherever possible.”

Linebackers coach Bill Sheridan is preaching versatility with his linebackers as a teaching tool. By playing all three spots, it forces the linebackers to know everyone’s role and the entire defense as a whole.

“It makes it easier for you to understand the defense,” Whitehead said. “Why you’re doing certain things and you understand your job a lot better.

“I’m just a linebacker. I’m just a football player. Wherever my services are needed is where I’m going to play.”


OTAs and minicamp practices are a time to rotate players into the lineup and get a look at different combinations.

It’s not until the pads come on in training camp that we’ll get a true idea of who’s playing well and where they fall on the depth chart.

That being said, rookie center Travis Swanson and second-year guard Rodney Austin have been getting some first-team reps over the last two days of minicamp practice.

“He’s good. He’s obviously an intelligent guy,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said of Swanson.

Austin, who has been getting a lot of first-team reps all spring while veteran left guard Rob Sims rehabs an injury, has really caught the eye of teammates, especially Stafford's.

“Rodney had a great offseason,” Stafford said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger, which is scary to think because he was already a strong guy. He did a great job in the weight room.

"He was here every day doing a great job working hard. We got him moving, and Swanson, from guard to center to guard to center. They’re picking it up. It’s no easy task for those guys. Rodney’s a young player in his own right.

“It helps them to have 51 (Dominic Raiola) in front of them showing them the ropes. He’s a great leader in that room, and a guy who’s been doing it for a long time. If they take notes and do it like he’s done it for a while, they’ll be pretty good.”


Golden Tate missed his second straight minicamp practice Wednesday and it appears the Lions' big free-agent acquisition this fall might not return to the field until training camp.  

Tate called his status “day-to-day” after practice and seems to be sitting out more as a precaution than anything else.

“It kind of sucks to be out there on the sideline and not participating,” Tate said. “But I’m trying to make sure I take some mental reps, and mistakes that guys are making now, try not to make them when I do come back. And the things they are doing well, trying to grow off of that. I'm out here, still working, do whatever I can to get better."

Cornerback Chris Houston and rookie receiver TJ Jones did not attend practice for the second day in a row – Tulloch joined that list Wednesday.

Players who were at practice but didn’t participate included: running backs Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, receiver Kevin Ogletree, defensive end Ziggy Ansah and guard Rob Sims.