Training Camp Battles: Linebackers

Friday, July 24, 2009

The linebacker corps provide something of a break as we stroll through the position groups in the week before training camp. This is the only position on the team that actually resembles an NFL-caliber group, with solid veteran starters backed up by promising young players. Detroit will probably go into the season with 7-8 linebackers and many roster spots are already relatively secure.

Julian Peterson. The prize acquisition from this past offseason, a five time Pro Bowler including the last three years in Seattle. He figures to play three downs and to be the pressure linebacker from the strong side. He may occasionally line up with his hand in the dirt. Chance of making roster: 100%

Ernie Sims. Sims is a bit enigmatic, struggling the last couple of years after a promising rookie season. Still, he is only 24 and there is a good argument that his problems stem more from being required to do too much, rather than any particular talent issues. This will be an interesting year as we see whether he can develop into an above average linebacker or not. Chance to make roster: 100%

Larry Foote. The third part of the starting triumvirate, he'll steady the middle and make plays. I'm not quite as excited as many by Foote, but he represents an upgrade and the matador run defense that Detroit featured the last couple of seasons should at least be slowed a bit. Chance of making roster: 100%

Jordan Dizon. Another disappointing linebacker from last season, and another strong argument that he was misused, when he was used at all. Lots of promising news about him out of the OTAs leads me to expect him to play a significant role, and eventually take some time from Peterson. Chance of making roster: 95% (you never know)

DeAndre Levy. The heir apparent to Foote's spot in the middle. As a third rounder on a rebuilding team it would be a major upset to see him cut. Nate wrote an article after the draft, part of which really illustrated the difference in philosophies between the Marinelli defense and the Schwartz defense.

Typically, the middle linebacker is considered the quarterback of a defense. However, under defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, the "MIKE" position would have no more responsibility than any other position.

As Schwartz put it, it's not a very "mentally taxing" position.

“Quite honestly in our defense that’s not that big a deal," said Schwartz. "It’s not that big of a difference between an outside player and an inside player. It’s not like a quarterback on offense and maybe a tight end or something like that. Everybody on defense is responsible for making calls. It’s not one person that makes every call over there, so it’s not as big of a concern.”

Of course, we all recall that last year Dizon wasn't allowed to play because somehow Marinelli's defense was too complicated for a rookie. Apparently it was also too complicated for eleven veterans and half a dozen coaches as well, but I digress. Chance of making roster: 90%

Cody Spencer. With the release of Alex Lewis, Spencer is the lone veteran backup fighting for a spot. His experience and special team skill should give him an edge in landing one of the last 2-3 spots. Chance to make roster: 70%

Zack Follett. Guy is already developing a cult following but the fact remains, he's a 7th round pick and facing an uphill fight to win a spot. My heart says that he will be just crazy enough to land a special teams gig. Chance to make roster: 49%

Curtis Gatewood. Gunther and Karm thought enough of Gatewood to claim him from Kansas City so we have to figure he'll get a fair look. Accrued a half dozen games of special team time last year with the Chiefs. He's a classic tweener, a defensive end in college who is too small for the position in the NFL but who lacks the kind of athleticism and instincts to be an effective linebacker. It is doubtful he can ever develop past special teams. Chance to make roster: 25%

Darnell Bing. Entering his fourth NFL year and has been activated for exactly one game, registering one special team tackle. Holdover from '08 it is hard to see Bing finding a role, considering neither Oakland nor San Francisco nor Detroit have thought much of him so far. He has the hitting and coverage skills to be a nickel backer, but at this point he's filling out Safeway applications. Chance to make roster: 10%

Spenser Smith. Rookie FA our of Eastern Michigan he isn't competing for a roster spot. Converting from DE to LB, he will be lucky to get a year on the practice squad. Chance to make roster: 0%

I have a hunch that the Lions will continue to watch the waiver wire closely throughout the summer. While there is good reason to be excited about the first five linebackers above, there is plenty of room for improvement after them.
Tomorrow I'll wrap up the tour with a review of the Lions' brutal secondary.

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