Detroit Lions battle shaping up at OLB?
After the Detroit Lions set up Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant as their starting linebackers two seasons ago, I (and a lot of other observers) never thought that the positions would be a question mark so soon. The Lions failed to re-sign Durant this off season and while middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch is playing under a long-term deal and DeAndre Levy has a new deal in hand, the vacancy created by Durant, or should I say the Lions, remains an apparent question mark and gaping hole in the defense.
By all tests, Ashlee Palmer should be the man set to step into the chasm on the strong side. The fifth year linebacker may have to tangle with several others for the post, including Tahir Whitehead, but the biggest threat may unexpectedly come from Travis Lewis, the second year weak side linebacker out of Oklahoma. Sliding Lewis over to compete for Durant’s vacancy would not be an outrageous thing to do, depending on what everyone else does in camp.
Palmer has proven to be a capable role player and fill in during injuries to several Lions linebackers, and has performed admirably with ever improving skills and instincts at all three positions when needed. But, while the Lions appear to have Palmer sitting as the starter right now, it remains to be seen if he can match the numbers put up by Durant in 2012.
At this time, Whitehead and Lewis both could provide stiff competition for the position, but Palmer will likely get the nod simply by virtue of experience, if nothing else. The relatively untested Whitehead and Lewis have one flaw or another, mostly inexperience, that might make them less attractive for the job as the summer wears on. The Lions also could still go fishing for another team’s cast-off during the summer to compete, as well.
While the Lions’ don’t really concern themselves with strong or weak side linebackers by title, playing the position still requires a certain amount of role-specific knowledge and experience. Palmer, having filled in at all three positions has the advantage in that fight, but should one of his challengers show up with a shocking amount of skill and newfound knowledge, the position could be anybody’s to seize. To me, Lewis might have the edge over Whitehead in that department, but who knows at this point?
The big problem is that whoever fills the void left by Durant will in all likelihood be the crack in the Lions’ linebacking dam this season unless they can equal or better the new Dallas Cowboy’s 2012 numbers. That challenge alone could put undue pressure on both the secondary and defensive line this season.
Earl Richmond is a long-suffering Detroit Lions fan and division writer for TPF. He can be reached at ERichmond@ThePenaltyFlagBlog.com