The NFL is a quarterback-driven league and defenses have long been trying to find ways to shut down the opposing quarterback. Some build the defensive line and try to pressure him, others find defensive backs to shut down the guys running routes.
Moreover, the linebacker is the quarterback and leader of the defense. He will be making adjustments, calling plays for the defense and communicating with the sideline in between plays.
The debate for the Lions’ greatest linebacker of all time has to start with Chris Spielman. Some of the greatest in NFL history are Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Jack Lambert and Mike Singletary. These men led great defenses.
When discussing the greatest defenses of all time, great leadership and dominance at the linebacker position is a common theme.
The 2018 Detroit Lions linebacker group is unknown and unproven for the most part. Promisingly, an experienced coach, Al Golden, will be leading this group. Golden previously was the head coach at the University of Miami (2011-15) and Temple University (2006-10).
He started his coaching career at Virginia (1994-96) as a graduate assistant. From 1997-99 he was the linebackers coach at Boston College, then at Penn State in the same position during the 2000 season. From there, he went on to be the defensive coordinator at Virginia from 2001-05. He brings years of coaching experience (23 at the college level) to a young group of players. However, he is somewhat new to the NFL as this is only his third year in the league and his first as a linebackers coach (previous two as the tight ends coach for the Lions).
Jarrad Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Nick Bellore and Steve Longa
The meeting room for linebackers features many new faces, almost as many new as familiar.
Jarrad Davis returns as the unquestionable leader and face of the group. He produced well in his first season with 96 tackles, two sacks and one interception. Davis showed potential to be the leader of the Lions defense for years to come.
The other returning Lions are Reeves-Maybin, Bellore and Longa. Reeves-Maybin began to gain more of a role late in the season as he tallied 14 tackles and a half sack in the final four games and could compete for a starting position in 2018.
Bellore figures to impact special teams. Bellore, out of Central Michigan University, showed his ability to be a leader and has quickly become one of the most versatile players on the Lions roster. In addition to special teams, he contributed two starts in Week 3 and 4. Furthermore, he took on the new role of fullback on offense. He even caught his first career touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.
Longa is another contributor to special teams who will compete with Bellore for backup reps on the defense. He could see an increased role due to Bellore’s increase in usage on offense.
Devon Kennard (NYG), Christian Jones (CHI) and Jonathan Freeny (NE)
Newly added linebackers Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Jonathan Freeny will compete for starting roles.
Kennard comes to Detroit from the Giants and looks to be a solid scheme fit in 3-4 packages. The Lions will incorporate Matt Patricia’s multiple defensive system. Thus, adding players to fit multiple packages adds depth and versatility to that side of the ball.
Jones joins the Lions from division rival, Chicago. He will be in competition for a starting role after a breakout 2017 season. Jones started 16 games and recorded 90 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.
Freeny is a signing made for depth. He has been an experienced locker room presence and has worked with Patricia in New England, winning Super Bowl LI.
The group features a lot of new faces and young returning players. It will be a position to watch going into OTAs and training camp.
Who will distance themselves as the starters and show playmaking ability within Coach Patricia’s new system? Will the Lions add more talent in the draft to increase competitiveness? The Lions linebackers will be important to help stop the run and assist in pressuring the quarterback.
Are they up to the task? Can Jarrad Davis take the next step toward becoming a stalwart in the Lions defense like Chris Spielman?
Featured image by AP Photo
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