Sun, 26 Sep 2021

2021 training camp preview: Linebacker

Detroit Lions
25 Jul 2021, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

On the roster: Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jamie Collins Sr., Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jahlani Tavai, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Anthony Pittman, Tavante Beckett, Reggie Gilbert

Key losses: Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Reggie Ragland

^with another team *college stats

Best competition: Starting spots and key roles

Anzalone, Barnes, Collins, Tavai and potentially some others will all be competing for starting spots and key roles in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's new 3-4 base scheme.

Anzalone knows the defense coming over from New Orleans the past few seasons and has been a reliable player for the Saints over the years. When a coordinator comes in and installs a new system, it's nice to have a player on the field who knows the language and can help with the transition.

Barnes probably has the most upside of the group and a lot of versatility. The Lions viewed Barnes as a terrific value in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft, and they hope he can step in right away and help.

Collins' skillset seems to fit Glenn's defense better than Matt Patricia's. He's a keen blitzer up the middle, and could play more of a role as a pass rusher and blitzer in Glenn's scheme.

Tavai enters a critical year three after a down second season in 2020. He lost nearly 20 pounds and looks to be running better with a slimmer frame, but can he play in space and defend the pass? The running back vs. linebacker drills are going to be key for him in camp.

One player to watch early in camp is the undrafted rookie Beckett out of Marshall. He caught the eye of some Lions talent evaluators this spring, and he'll have an opportunity to make a mark when the pads come on. Could he earn a roster spot?

Twentyman's take: Gone are the days where the Lions prefer size over speed at the linebacker position.

The NFL is changing. The tight ends and running backs nowadays are too good in space for a team's linebackers not to be able to play in the open field and run laterally. Head coach Dan Campbell and Glenn have made it clear they value linebackers who can run. It's the reason they drafted Barnes, asked Tavai to trim his frame and are giving special teams ace Reeves-Maybin an opportunity to earn more of a role on defense.

The more versatile the linebackers Glenn has, the more creative he can get with scheme and personnel packages.

This was a considerably underperforming position group for the Lions last year, and there should be good competition in camp across the board to find the right mix of players to improve the defense. No one seems guaranteed of anything at the linebacker position heading into camp.

Barnes is definitely someone to keep an eye on early in camp. He played both on the edge and as a stacked backer in college at Purdue, so there's some versatility there Glenn could tap into. Barnes is expected be a stacked backer in Detroit, but his pass-rushing experience could make him a terrific blitzer, which Glenn is expected to do more of than the previous defensive regime.

Collins was the most productive of Detroit's linebackers last season, and he can do a number of different things that seem to fit into what Glenn wants to do from a versatility standpoint at the position.

Across the board, linebacker is a position the Lions need much more consistency from in 2021.

By the numbers:

0-3: Detroit's record in 2020 when allowing a 100-yard rusher.

3: Collins was one of three linebackers last season to record at least 100 tackles, force three fumbles and record a sack and interception.

13.6: The percentage of times the Lions' defense forced a three and out, which was the fourth lowest percentage in the NFL.

19: Since 2014, Collins' 19 forced fumbles are tied for the fourth most in the NFL. Only Chandler Jones (23), Khalil Mack (23) and Lavonte David (22) have produced more.

118.8: Opponent passer rating against Detroit last year in blitz situations, the highest in the NFL.

Quotable: "Barnes, he's so intriguing because, yes, he might have that approach and demeanor of, like you say, kind of that older school linebacker, but that dude is fast," Lions GM Brad Holmes said of Barnes this offseason.

"He's explosive. He can really run. He's got long arms. He can shed blocks. He plays with tenacity. He has a background as a pass-rusher, so he's got the versatility to do a lot of different things and I think that that's needed in today's game."

More New Orleans News

Access More

Sign up for New Orleans News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!