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Detroit Lions 2016 roster review: Thurston Armbrister showed how thin team was at LB

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The Lions had a linebacker problem in 2016 like no other team in the NFL.

Tennessee Titans v Detroit Lions Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Our 2016 Detroit Lions roster review continues with linebacker Thurston Armbrister.

Thurston Armbrister

Expectations before 2016

Finding healthy linebackers was a problem for the Lions in 2016, and heading into the season, when Josh Bynes was placed on IR and subsequently released, Detroit was desperate for any help they could get.

Enter Thurston Armbrister, a signee from the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad.

Without hardly any preparation or time to become acclimated with the defense, Armbrister was immediately the next guy in line should Detroit fall on even harder times at linebacker. It would eventually happen and these are those happenings.

Actual role in 2016

2016 stats: 14 games (2 starts) | 9 tackles

In Week 5 and 6, after finding the field briefly in weeks past, Armbrister was thrust into a starting role when DeAndre Levy and Antwione Williams suffered injuries. Alongside Tahir Whitehead and Kyle Van Noy, the import from Jacksonville looked completely lost at times, but after having such limited time to get in tune with Detroit’s defense, it wasn’t all that surprising. Missed tackles, blown coverages and sprinting onto the field to make it in time for the snap created a bit of a reputation for the linebacker that he could never shake.

As Jeremy Reisman pointed out here earlier this week, Detroit realized just what kind of dire straits they were in when it came to the linebacker position. Without any plausible in-season fixes available, the Lions decided to get a lot less conventional. Instead of sticking with the Armbrister experience, the team decided to adjust their formation to put players on the field they felt comfortable with putting out there:

The Lions went from averaging 20.32 percent of defensive snaps claimed by linebackers (or 2.24 linebackers per play) to just 16.79 percent (or just 1.85 linebackers per play).

Just think about that for a second. That’s a huge formation change. The Lions went from averaging two linebackers every play and a third linebacker just about every fourth play, to averaging well under two linebackers per play.

This effectively ended Armbrister’s contributions on defense and turned him into almost exclusively a contributor on special teams.

Outlook for 2017

Armbrister is under contract through 2017, and could potentially be a participant in camp for Detroit if they choose to do so. While the Lions need all the help they can get at improving the linebacker position this offseason, they’ll be finding those upgrades in free agency and the draft rather than from within. With other value plays like Antwione Williams available to contribute on special teams, and the team’s preferred players at linebacker, it seems less than likely that Armbrister sticks around in Detroit past training camp.

Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Kerry Hyder, Jon Bostic, Marvin Jones, Alex Carter, Tim Wright, Armonty Bryant, Clay Harbor, Crezdon Butler, Matthew Mulligan, Asa Jackson, Tyrunn Walker, Josh Bynes, Stefan Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Steve Longa, Joique Bell, Taylor Decker, Garrett Reynolds, Jake Rudock, Tavon Wilson, Ameer Abdullah, Ezekiel Ansah, Haloti Ngata