The Detroit Lions haven’t been shy about their excitement surrounding the linebacking corps. Earlier in the week, general manager Brad Holmes noted just how deep that position is heading into the regular season.
“If you look at linebackers, I mean yeah, that’s heavy to have six linebackers, but you have five guys that are starter-level players that either have the ability to start, or have started in this league,” Holmes said.
The Lions have put a lot of investment into that group over the past three years. They started by specifically targeting Alex Anzalone, a player familiar with their defensive scheme, in free agency back in 2021—then re-signed him this offseason. Over the next three years, they drafted a linebacker in each draft: Derrick Barnes (Round 4, 2021), Malcolm Rodriguez (Round 6, 2022) and Jack Campbell (Round 1, 2023).
On Saturday, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn broke down what each player does well, and why he’s confident in the group moving forward. Starting with Anzalone, who is expected to be the team’s starting WILL linebacker this year.
“He’s the field general,” Glenn said. “I mean he knows this defense like the back of his hand. He’s been with me for a long time. I would say that’s his strong point. Also, I would say in coverage is his strong point.”
It could very well be Barnes starting alongside Anzalone at the MIKE position. All offseason, Lions coaches have praised Barnes for his development in Year 3. Glenn, too, joined the parade of voice in support of Barnes’ improvement.
“Explosive, fast, violent, get downhill, knock someone out type of mentality,” Glenn said. “That’s his strong point.”
If Barnes isn’t starting in the Thursday opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, it’ll likely be Campbell, the first-round rookie. Glenn noted how quickly Campbell has already picked up the offense.
“Jack: big, strong, physical, blue-collar, hard worker, easily can pick a defense up, which he’s already done and he fits who we are to a T,” Glenn said.
As for Rodriguez, who started 15 games for the Lions as a rookie last year, Glenn had just one word about him: “Bulldog.”
Ultimately, there’s far too much talent to leave some of these players on the bench, and Glenn knows it. Not only will these players be able to showcase their talent on special teams, but Glenn intimated that there will be subpackages to give these reserves a role on defense.
“We do have different packages to get different guys on the field and like I said with the linebackers, those guys are going to play,” Glenn said. “I’m not going to tell you when, but they’re going to play because they’re good enough to play.”