Notebook: Palmer, Whitehead and Lewis getting fair shot to win starting linebacker job

Posted Jun 13, 2013

Tim Twentyman reports on the competition at outside linebacker, a special visit from Balaal Hollings and other observations from the Lions' final mini-camp practice

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has said a number of times this offseason that OTAs is about learning technique and scheme -- the competition for playing time will come in training camp.

One of the more intriguing competitions will be at linebacker, where Ashlee Palmer, Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead are fighting for one starting spot.

Ashlee PalmerLB Ashlee Palmer

The Lions completed their mandatory three-day minicamp Thursday and each player spent one of the days with the first team. It appears each of them is getting a fair shot to win the job.

"May the best man win," said Whitehead after practice Thursday.

"They're battling, those three guys: Ashlee (Palmer), Tahir (Whitehead) and Travis (Lewis)," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said.

"They're all making plays and, you know, I always tell Matt (Burke) it's about the trust. Who is going to make the most plays without messing one up? They're all really doing pretty well. I like what Matt's doing with them and each one of them has shown up for big plays."

Palmer is the veteran, Whitehead is the most athletic and Lewis the all-time tackle leader at Oklahoma. They all bring a little something different to the table and Cunningham and Co. will have to sort out which traits fit this defense the best.

It should be one of the better competitions in camp.

"It's an amazing feeling just knowing that I have an opportunity to show what I've got and we're on equal ground and everyone has the same opportunity," Whitehead said.


The Lions broke mini-camp today and players are off for the next six weeks or so until the start of training camp at the end of July.

Before they broke, Schwartz gathered his team together to give them one final message.

"We talked about reporting date, we talked about what's expected of them between now and the beginning of training camp, both from an off-the-field point of view and also what they need to do to get ready and come in in great shape to compete for jobs," Schwartz said.

"We've talked all offseason about how they really weren't competing. They were really competing against themselves as we went through all this stuff to prove their technique, to get better, to be in great condition. Once we get to training camp, that's when all that pays off because now they start competing for jobs."

Schwartz said the Lions had a very productive offseason and accomplished what they set out to do.

"It's been a good offseason for them," Schwartz said. "First, the guys reported in great shape and then they worked hard. It's a short offseason, it's only 10 weeks, but they took advantage of every opportunity.

"They practiced with the same kind of tempo from the very beginning. I think we've accomplished installing just about all of our offensive, defensive schemes. We've introduced a new special teams scheme. So, there's been a lot of positives all through the offseason."


 Balaal HollingsBalaal Hollings with Jim Schwartz

The Lions got a special visit at practice today from Balaal Hollings, who was shot in the head at a house party in Detroit in April.

Hollings was captain of the football, baseball and golf teams at Northwestern High in Detroit. He was special guest of the Lions Thursday and spoke to the team at the end of practice.

"Doctors were saying he wasn't supposed to live or walk or talk and he was jogging up to the huddle to break us down," receiver Nate Burleson said. "That's powerful stuff. "

Last week, Hollings made national headlines when he surprised his classmates when they gathered for their graduating ceremony.

"Our guys make their livings with their bodies and they put their bodies through a lot of abuse," Schwartz said. "They've got to answer the bell every week and play through a lot of different bumps and bruises and things like that. It gives them a little perspective when here's a guy who took a bullet to the head and they didn't think he was going to live, much less walk or talk again.

"When we brought him out, he actually even jogged a little bit, probably against doctors' orders, but he actually jogged out to the huddle.

"Anytime you can put a guy like that in front of our guys, I think it lets those bumps and bruises that our guys go through be put in perspective. Our guys have a lot of respect for the rehab that he's had and the ground that he's covered."


Safety Louis Delmas, cornerback Jonte Green, guard Leroy Harris, receiver Brian Robiskie and guard Bill Nagy did not practice again Thursday. All are expected to participate in training camp, though.

"We had a couple guys that just had little tweaks here and there," Schwartz said when asked about Houston after practice. "It's three practices in a row and seven in two weeks. You started getting a few groins and hamstrings tightening up.

"Nobody's long-term, but the last thing we wanted to do is take a little minor thing and all of a sudden you have a guy up where he's got four weeks of rehab rather than four weeks of training before training camp. So, Chris was one of those guys."