As we start to look ahead to training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions roster. Next up is the linebacker position. (The final year of each player's contract is listed in parentheses.)
Back from last season: DeAndre Levy (2015), Stephen Tulloch (2016), Ashlee Palmer (2014), Tahir Whitehead (2015), Travis Lewis (2015), Cory Greenwood (2014), Julian Stanford (2014), Brandon Hepburn (2015)
New to the team: Kyle Van Noy (2017), Justin Jackson (2016)
The Lions' projected starting trio of linebackers for 2014 features two established veterans and a rookie. The two veterans are DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch, who are set to start at weakside linebacker and middle linebacker, respectively. Tulloch is coming off another solid season, and Levy is coming off a breakout season. They are expected to be joined by Kyle Van Noy, a second-round pick out of BYU who is set to take over the strongside linebacker role.
The top backup at linebacker for the Lions should be Ashlee Palmer, who was a starter last season. I suppose he is technically still a starter, but it would be shocking if he beats out Van Noy at SLB. If he is in fact a backup, he will get a lot of playing time on special teams, a role where he has excelled in the past, and he will be ready to step in if any of the starters get hurt.
Beyond the top four, there are a lot of question marks about the Lions' linebackers from a defensive standpoint. We know that Tahir Whitehead is an excellent special teams player, for example, but will he be able to contribute at linebacker if a situation arises where the Lions need him there? The same question applies to Travis Lewis, Cory Greenwood, Julian Stanford, Brandon Hepburn and undrafted free agent Justin Jackson. Those guys will all be expected to contribute on special teams more than anything, but showing some skill at linebacker would go a long way toward helping them make the 53-man roster.
Need going forward?
The Lions have pretty good depth at linebacker. Obviously we don't know how quickly Van Noy will adjust to playing in the NFL, but even if he comes along slowly, the Lions have Palmer ready to start in his place. Between those two players and established linebackers like Tulloch and Levy, the Lions are in good shape at this position. And if one or two of their other linebackers are able to contribute on more than just special teams this year, they will be in even better shape at this position.