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Season Preview: Linebackers

The Lions fielded one of the better linebacking groups on paper in the NFL last year, but they never came together as a group on the field.  Part of that was attributed to the struggles Larry Foote and Ernie Sims had adapting to a new defensive scheme, but the poor play of the line and secondary also contributed as well.

The linebackers were constantly having to take on blocks and make tackles down the field instead of being clean and attacking the ball carrier in the hole.  Frequent assignment mistakes and freelancing compounded the issue in the running game. 

The linebackers struggled against the pass as well as they were asked to blitz more often than they should and when they were in coverage, opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw.  Things got so bad along the line that Julian Peterson frequently had to play defensive end.

Heading into the 2010 season, some of the faces are the same, but they are lining up in different places.  Gone is Larry Foote, who resigned with the Steelers and Ernie Sims who was traded to the Eagles.  In their place are DeAndre Levy who started 10 games at weakside and middle linebacker and Zack Follett who played sparingly on defense.

Levy has the speed and size to not only handle the middle, but upgrade it over Foote.  Levy has strong instincts and he is a good tackler despite having more missed tackles last season than you would like.  The coaches are showing a lot of faith giving him the responsibility of making the defensive calls for the front seven.

Peterson was limited by the lack of talent and the new scheme but still managed to qualify as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.  Peterson is and elite pass rusher and has a nose for the ball as evidenced by his five forced fumbles and one recovery in 2009.

The biggest wildcard in the linebacking corps is Zack Follett who received the bulk of his playing time on special teams last season.  Follett played defensive end and rush linebacker in college and brings a pass rushing presence to the group.

Behind the starters lie a bunch of career special teamers or young players with a lot to prove.

Vinny Ciurciu was brought in to shore up the poor coverage units, but he will have competition from Ashlee Palmer and Isaiah Ekejiuba this season. 

Jordan Dizon received playing time in the nickel last season, but he didn’t establish himself and he is on the bubble. 

Landon Johnson is a favorite of special teams coach Danny Crossman, has starting experience, and should make the roster. 

Caleb Campbell is a great story after missing the last two years for military service and finally hitting the field this season.  He took the time away to bulk up and enhance his explosiveness while training with the US Men’s bobsled team.  He might be a longshot to make the active roster, but he should be a practice squad invite at the least.

 The Lions lack the experience and name recognition that they had last season, but they have more promise and potential in 2010.  The Lions don’t have the depth to get by if Follett falters or they suffer any significant injuries though.

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