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Season in Review: Linebackers

Going into the 2009 season there weren’t any position groups outside of the linebacking corps that could be considered a strength.  Unfortunately, that strength never materialized due to injuries, learning a new scheme and the poor performances of the defensive line and secondary.

The Lions’ scheme has the defensive ends lined up wide to get a jump on the pass rush and to funnel the run game into the middle of the field.  The logic behind the scheme is to prevent runners from getting into the open field and making the linebackers chase them.  The scheme is also heavily reliant on the defensive line getting penetration and letting the linebackers attack the runner.  When the defensive line isn’t getting penetration, it forces the linebackers to react rather than attack.  The backs were also able to get to the corner too often and the integrity of the scheme fell apart as the linebackers had to fight blockers and chase running backs that got to the sideline.

The linebackers struggled in the passing game as well.  The line couldn’t get pressure on their own and when they blitzed, the secondary couldn’t cover long enough for them to get to the quarterback.  This left the linebackers in a state of limbo, forced to cover longer than possible but unable to blitz.

The scheme is sound, but the linebackers will struggle until the defensive line’s play improves.

Here are some brief comments on each player and what direction the Lions will take in the offseason.

Larry Foote: Larry Foote’s homecoming provided veteran leadership and an infusion of confidence and intensity.  He was never comfortable in the transition from inside linebacker in a 3-4 to middle linebacker in the 4-3.  Assignment issues and poor play on the defensive line limited his impact on the defense before ultimately missing the last two games with a foot injury.  2010 Season: Foote will test the market and odds are he will sign elsewhere.  The Lions would like him back on a one-year deal, Foote wants a multi-year deal.

Julian Peterson: Julian Peterson didn’t have a great season, but he performed well in a variety of roles for the Lions.  He played outside linebacker and rotated to defensive end and never really got comfortable in either position.  He finished with 5.0 sacks, but 4 came in a two game stretch.  2010 Season: My theory is the Lions want him back unless they can get a healthy Keith Bulluck cheaper.  Peterson passed on a contract restructuring and he’s still too productive to let go.  His fate will be decided once the Lions can get a medical evaluation on Bullock once free agency opens.  I personally would like to see Peterson back for one last season, but his cap hit would be huge if they kept him for the 2010 season and cut him loose once a new CBA is in place.

Ernie Sims: Ernie Sims has gone from one of the top young linebackers in the game to local goat in the last couple of seasons.  Sims struggled in the Tampa 2 system because it limited his aggressiveness and instincts.  The transition to the new scheme was not an easy one for Sims and just as he was starting to get comfortable he got injured.  He was rusty when he came back, but had two excellent games to close out the season.  He may be on the rise and ready to break out in 2010.  2010 Season: Sims will be back as a starter and hopefully another offseason will get him comfortable on the field after four seasons of feeling out of place.

DeAndre Levy: DeAndre Levy was a huge surprise and made most fans forget about Aaron Curry.  His performance was even more surprising considering he played snaps at all three linebacker positions and started games at two different positions.  Levy flashed a nose for the ball and hits like a truck.  2010 Season: Levy will start somewhere, most likely in the middle to replace Foote.

Jordon Dizon: Dizon played sparingly, playing about 11 snaps a game, but actually performed fairly well in his limited playing time.  Gunther Cunnigham spoke glowingly of him in training camp and the Lions made it a point to get him on the field especially in passing situations.  Dizon is undersized, but he has good instincts and great speed.  He needs to bulk up and get more playing time to realize his potential.  No matter how well Dizon plays, my stomach always turns knowing that Millen took him rather than Ray Rice when we needed a starting running back.  2010 Season: Dizon will return as a versatile backup, nickel linebacker and special teamer.

 

Zack Follett: Played 24 defensive snaps but played a huge role on special teams.  The coverage units definitely sucked less with Follett kamikazing down the field.  Follett showed some pass rush ability against the Bears in the last game, and the coaches hope they can coach more of that out of him this offseason.  2010 Season: Follett should make the team on special teams alone, but watch for him to get more time on pass rushing downs as he is an instinctive pass rusher.

 

 

Offseason Goal(s): The only big move I could see is releasing Peterson for Bulluck, but I am higher on Peterson than Bulluck and would prefer they don’t make that move.  The Lions will add at least one linebacker in the draft or free agency for depth, but the key to improving the linebacker play is strengthening the defensive line.


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