LIONS INSIDER

Tahir Whitehead delivers clutch 2014 performance

Posted Feb 24, 2015

The Lions received clutch performances from a lot of players on the way to 11 wins in 2014, but the most pivotal of them all may have been linebacker Tahir Whitehead's.

The Detroit Lions received clutch performances from a lot of different players on the way to 11 wins and a playoff appearance in 2014.

The most clutch of them all, however, just might have been from third-year linebacker Tahir Whitehead.

Tahir WhiteheadLB Tahir Whitehead (Photo: Gavin Smith / Detroit Lions)

He began the season as the starting SAM linebacker after spending his first two seasons in the league as primarily a special teamer, but when Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL in the Lions’ third game of the season vs. Green Bay, Whitehead was moved to the MIKE, a position he’d never played in his entire football career at any level.

“I thought our coaching staff and Teryl (Austin) and (linebackers coach) Bill Sheridan and those guys did a great job with that decision,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. “I never really viewed Tahir as a MIKE backer. I thought of him more as an outside guy.

“We had discussions about that and they felt very comfortable he could adapt to the MIKE linebacker position, and he did. He did a phenomenal job in there playing for us and he has a very bright future.”

Mayhew, like most personnel guys in this league, love versatility. Whitehead proved this past season he can step into any linebacker role on this team and play. Players like that are invaluable to a ball club.

Whitehead finished with 86 tackles and two interceptions, playing in all 16 games for the Lions in 2014.

He stepped in for the veteran Tulloch and the Lions defense didn’t skip a beat. It ranked in the top three in overall defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. Detroit finished the season yielding just 1,109 rushing yards, becoming the ninth team in NFL history to finish the season allowing less than 70.0 yards rushing per game.

With Tulloch’s rehab going ahead of schedule, the Lions all of the sudden find themselves with quality talent and depth at the linebacker spot.

WILL linebacker DeAndre Levy is an All-Pro. Tulloch is a reliable veteran who graded out very well by the new coaching staff in the three games he played before the knee injury. We know Whitehead can play both the SAM and the MIKE. The team also has high hopes for SAM linebacker Kyle Van Noy in his second season.

Linebacker appears to be a position of strength for this Lions defense.

“He’s a prime example of why you’re patient with guys,” Mayhew said of Whitehead. “Because the first couple years he’s really a special teams guy and that’s what he does. He kind of made a niche for himself doing that.

“Then he showed the ability to go in and start for us at MIKE linebacker. He can obviously start outside for us if he needs to. I was very happy with his performance.”