At this time a year ago, the Detroit Lions' starting strongside linebacker job seemed to be between second-round pick Kyle Van Noy and Ashlee Palmer. In fact, Tahir Whitehead was still viewed as nothing more than a special teams contributor. As the summer progressed, however, it was Whitehead who stepped up and took the starting SLB job. It helped that Van Noy ended up on the shelf because of an injury, but Whitehead became a starter and never looked back. In fact, he eventually became the starting middle linebacker after Stephen Tulloch got hurt.
With Tulloch back this year, Whitehead is no longer going to start in the middle, but he's the favorite going into training camp to once again start on the strong side. A healthy Van Noy should also once again be in the mix at that spot, as should Josh Bynes, who re-signed for two more seasons with the Lions this offseason.
Whitehead is the clear frontrunner in this camp battle going into training camp. He already won the starting job once in 2014, and he played quite well as a starter at multiple spots throughout the season. He ended up having 86 combined tackles by the end of the year, as well as five pass defenses and two interceptions. More than anything, he showed that he can contribute on more than just special teams.
One player who could throw a wrench into Whitehead's plans to start again is Van Noy. When the Lions used a second-round pick on him, the plan was to start him at strongside linebacker. Things didn't work out that way with Van Noy missing the first half of the season, however, and he never really put it together as a rookie. Perhaps now that he's healthy it will be a different story and he will become the player the Lions envisioned a year ago.
The other option worth mentioning is Bynes, who joined the Lions during the 2014 season and finished with 22 tackles, one pass defense and one interception. He showed some promise at strongside linebacker once Whitehead moved inside, and he could be a player who develops into a starter going forward.
Who has the edge right now?
It's Whitehead. It would be nice if Van Noy or Bynes takes a big enough step forward to potentially jump ahead of Whitehead, but there's no reason to expect that at this point. Whitehead did more than enough last season to be considered a starter going into training camp this year, and unless he regresses big time this summer, he should once again be the starting SLB.
Previously: Backup quarterback, starting running back, No. 4 running back, starting fullback, No. 3 wide receiver, No. 4 offensive tackle, starting left guard, starting center, No. 3 defensive end, second starting defensive tackle