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2022 training camp preview: Linebacker

On the roster: Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Chris Board, Jarrad Davis, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Malcolm Rodriguez, Julian Okwara, Josh Woods, Anthony Pittman, Natrez Patrick

Key losses: Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Table inside Article
Name Games Tackles TFL Sacks INT
Alex Anzalone 14 78 1 1.0 1
Derrick Barnes 17 67 4 2.0 0
Chris Board^ 16 41 0 0.0 0
Jarrad Davis^ 9 25 0 0.0 0
Julian Okwara 13 27 6 5.0 1
Shaun Dion Hamilton - - - - -
Malcolm Rodriguez* 14 129 16 3.0 1
Josh Woods 12 28 2 0.0 0
Anthony Pittman 17 18 0 0.0 0
Natrez Patrick^ - - - - -

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Starting roles

Of all the position groups on the Detroit Lions roster, things appear to be most up in the air at the linebacker spot. The team doesn't have a $50 million player at the position or a first-round pick with future star power needing to play. The pecking order at linebacker will be decided strictly from camp practices and the preseason.

The Lions moved to a 4-3 base defense, but teams are in sub packages more than 70 percent of the time, so they'll mix up personnel and matchups frequently at linebacker.

Anzalone and Barnes will get every opportunity to start as incumbent starters from last season, but watch out for the newly signed Board. He might be the best cover linebacker on the Lions roster after coming over from Baltimore this offseason.

Hamilton was going to be on the Lions' initial 53-man roster last season if not for an injury suffered in camp that wiped out his 2021 season. He's been good in the spring.

Then there's Rodriguez, who has garnered a lot of praise from teammates and coaches for his approach to the game, football IQ and skillset. He's one I'll really have an eye on when camp starts.

Okwara is playing a hybrid pass rusher/linebacker role for DC Aaron Glenn this season, splitting time in the spring between the linebacker room and the defensive line room. He's another candidate for a starting hybrid role.

View photos of the Detroit Lions linebackers heading into training camp.

Twentyman's take: Detroit needs better play from the group collectively than they got a season ago.

The Lions are hoping Barnes takes a big leap in development in his second season. He got better as his rookie season progressed, which is a good sign, and Detroit is hoping he continues to trend in that direction and is a major player for them on defense.

Board intrigues me. He played a lot on special teams and third down in Baltimore. He'll get a chance to be a three-down player here in Detroit, which should motivate him.

Rodriguez is the wild card. He doesn't have elite size, but he's a heck of an athlete with speed. I was talking to linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard this offseason, and he raved about Rodriguez's football IQ and his feel for the game. Don't be surprised if Rodriguez gets on the field early.

By the numbers:

0: Red zone takeaways record by Detroit's defense last season.

1-of-10: Okwara was 1-of-10 NFL players to produce at least 5.0 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2021. He's the first Lion to tally such a season since DE Cliff Avril in 2011.

59: Rushing plays of 10-plus yards allowed by the Lions' defense in 2021, which ranked 24th in the NFL.

86: Scoring drives allowed by the Lions' defense last season. Only the New York Jets (93) allowed more.

Quotable: "I'm even more excited about that player right now with having my hands on him for about two months now this offseason. He's done everything and more I've asked. He's completely bought in," Sheppard said of Barnes.

"That guy man, the sky's the limit for him. But he knows as well he hasn't had a lot of off-ball experience so that's just for me getting the molded clay and now I can make it into whatever I want.

"At the same time, he has to go do it. I told him 'I can't talk to you through the headset all play to tell you what to do,' but when Derrick knows what to do, you'll see it this fall. That player, there's not many in the league with his stature, with his power, with the way he can run and hit (and he) can do what he can do once he knows exactly what to do."

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