Training Camp Preview: linebackers

Posted Jul 22, 2014

The linebackers are being asked to do a lot of different things in Teryl Austin's scheme.

On the roster: DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, Kyle Van Noy, Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Julian Stanford, Cory Greenwood, Travis Lewis, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson

Key loss: Rocky McIntosh

Making the cut: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy, Palmer and Whitehead

On the bubble: Stanford, Greenwood, Lewis, Hepburn and Jackson

Best competition: Van Noy vs. Palmer

Palmer did his job as a two-down linebacker last year in his first full season as a starter, but this is a whole new defense under Teryl Austin and the SAM linebacker plays a completely different role.

Van Noy, the team’s second-round draft pick in May, was a backup on the depth chart for most of the spring, but it seems like only a matter of time before he slides into that starting SAM position permanently. He’s big, fast and can do a lot of different things.

Palmer, however, isn’t going to give up his spot easily. He feels his game also fits the new requirements for the SAM spot and is looking forward to the competition in camp.

Van Noy seems to have the edge here, but Palmer had to earn every minute of playing time he’s gotten in his career and isn’t going to lose his starting spot without a good competition.

2013 Stats
DeAndre Levy 16 119 0.0 15 6 0 0
Stephen Tulloch 16 135 3.5 3 1 0 0
*Kyle Van Noy 13 70 4 7 2 0 1
Ashlee Palmer 16 33 0.0 1 0 0 1
Tahir Whitehead 16 9 0.0 0 0 1 0
Julian Stanford 4 3 0.0 0 0 0 0
Travis Lewis 12 6 0.0 0 0 0 0
*Justin Jackson 12 26 2.0 2 1 0 1
+Corey Greenwood 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
^Brandon Hepburn 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0
*college statistics       +did not play in 2013       ^practice squad

Twentyman’s take: It’s a whole new ball game for the linebackers in this scheme. Gone are the days of reading and reacting to what the four guys in front of them are doing. This is an attacking scheme. The Lions are going to show opponents a lot of different fronts and are going to bring pressure from a lot of different gaps.

Stephen TullochLB Stephen Tulloch (Photo: Associated Press)

The SAM linebacker is going to play on the line of scrimmage a lot, which is probably the most drastic change to the position. That player is going to rush the quarterback, play the run and even drop back in coverage at times. He has to be versatile, which is why I see Van Noy ultimately winning the starting spot.

Van Noy spent part of the individual portion of practice with the defensive line group, which tells you how versatile Austin wants the SAM to be.

Tulloch will be better in an attacking scheme and it will be harder for offenses to isolate him in the passing game. He could potentially improve upon the career-high 3.5 sacks he had in 2013.

Levy should excel in this scheme and will continue to be one of the better 4-3 linebackers in the NFL.

The Lions kept six linebackers on the 53-man roster out of camp last year. If that holds true this year there seems to be a lot of competition for that fifth and sixth spot. Lewis, Stanford and Greenwood are all good special teams players and that will certainly play a factor in who wins those spots.

Hepburn has good size, and as a former draft pick, will get an opportunity to make the team. Both he and Jackson are practice-squad eligible.

By the numbers:

6: Interceptions by Levy last year, becoming only the third linebacker in team history to record six interceptions in a season and the first since Joe Schmidt in 1958.

437: The amount of negative yards forced by the Lions defense last year, the seventh most in the league.

39: Percent of opponents’ runs last year netting at least four yards, which ranked the Lions in the top seven in the league. The league average was 42.4 percent.


“I’m not going to be married to anything. What we’re going to try to be married to is what’s best for our guys that week and that game. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

--Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin