Outside Linebacker Shopping: Roth, Bulluck,Thomas

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It’s another slow day in Lions camp, as the team continues to participate in OTAs to start what is considered an interesting time for some times and a boring one for others.

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Is Adalius Thomas in the mix at linebacker? (Courtesy Yardbarker.com)

One trending topic that contiues to popularize is the outside linebacker position, where second year player Zack Follett will take his fan favorite attitude to the field labeled as the guy with the starting job to lose. Gunther Cunningham gets violent when the subject comes up. His job is to destroy opposing offensive gameplans, but he has some pretty gruesome plans if Follet doesn’t earn playing time at linebacker. The California kid will compete for the starting position that was vacated when the Lions traded Ernie Sims to the Philadelphia Eagles this off-season.

“I’m going to kill Zack Follett if he doesn’t play,” defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said tonight at a meet-and-greet with season-ticket holders at Ford Field. “That’s the bottom line. And I think we put pressure on him by doing that, by making this move.

“Zack’s like a human dynamo, and he’s learned, and he knows how much confidence I have in him.”

The true question though is how much confidence does this coaching staff have in the former seventh round draft pick? He definitely has a role on special teams. He loves to hit. But the real question becomes: Can he handle the every play pressure that comes at the starting outside position?

He seems to think so.

Follett has already told his opponents to get prepared for blood. Fans seem to agree.  Follett was a monster in college, accumulated the most tackles for loss in the PAC-10 his senior year. Nobody is doubting that his future is at this position. Everyone seems to agree the future is bright.

The only thing worth asking is do the Detroit Lions believe the future is now.

Third year linebacker Jordan Dizon has been praised by the current defense staff. At only 5’11”, he is a bit undersized, but he will have a great oppurtunity to log a lot of playing time. He uses all his size in his burst, and is able to get to the ball right off the whistly. He could definitely be a big part of any blitzing package this team puts together. If he plays well in the training camp and the preseason, the once projected middle linebacker could become the named starter.

With many changes to this defense in 2010, it could also be possible that the Lions will look outside the organization for more talent around the league as it becomes available. Depth at the linebacker position is lacking. A true veteran pressence beyond Julian Peterson could be just the final piece for this defense to get off the ground running.

Here are a few names to continue watching as the Lions near training camp in July.

Keith Bulluck, Free Agent- The long time star in Tennesee is probably a long shot here in Detroit as Jim Schwartz has indicated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions become players again as he becomes closer to full health. Bulluck was a starter under Schwartz, and was considered one of the veteran leaders on the Titans defense alongside now Lion Kyle Vanden Bosh. Dwight Freeney of the Colts has made a personal push for Bulluck, but beyond that the market has been quiet for the veteran linebacker.

The Titans aren’t complaining though, becuase they would love to add their defensive star back on the club if the price is right. Bulluck could bring a lot to the Lions if healthy, but with a stud like this it is imperative to know he will be able to contribute fully. Bulluck had one of his best seasons last year, despite missing the last two games of the season. He picked off three passes, while stacking on 108 tackles.

If the perfect mid-season situation were to perk up, much like Daunte Culpepper a few years ago, the Lions would be one hell of a fit. They could also become more aggressive next month, as the remaining free agents will fly off the board as teams will not have to battle compensatory picks. Veterans signed after June 1 will not affect the compensatory- pick process.

Matt Roth, Cleveland- In a strange scenerio, former Miami Dolphin Matt Roth has been claimed and claims he wants nothing to do with the Cleveland Browns. The two have reached a stalemate when it comes to working out a multi-year deal, and Roth has told the team he wouldn’t mind a trade. Roth is projected as the starting outside linebacker for the Browns, but the Lions would not be getting sure tackler or even someone that is a proven talent at the position. The best thing Roth brings to the table is his blitzing ability and the Lions already have that with younger talent on the roster.

If the price is right though and Roth is available later in the training camp process, the Lions might take a flyer on the guy. Roth is 27 years old, but the fact that he really believes he deserves a heavy multi-million dollar deal is ludicrus. This is a guy that should be considering himself lucky to be the starter. Roth only has 16.5 sacks in five full seasons of duty.

Adalius Thomas, Free Agent- There is a reason that nobody has been knocking on the door of the former Ravens superstars door. There is also a reason that Thomas’ agent Bus Cook’s phone hasn’t been ringing after initial interest.

Last year’s play has indicated Thomas isn’t the player he used to be. For the Lions, he also might not have the same attitude. Here is a guy that tallied 28 sacks in three years. He received an enormous contract to become the hybrid linebacker the Patriots were missing. Nothing never clicked completely, but at time Thomas showed the type of talent he can be.

Last season, the wheels fell off the track.

In 14 games he had just 34 tackles. He only got to the quarterback three times. The 49ers have lost interest. The Packers have never shown a passion for signing unrestricted free agents. A reunion with Rex Ryan remains doubtful.  Anyone looking at the tapes realizes that he isn’t the same speedy linebacker he used to be. 

Sadly, that makes the Lions a pretty good fit.

At least on paper. Thomas has the size and speed that Cunningham preaches about. Even though he isn’t the sub 4.5 linebacker he used to be, he could be a serviceable starter in this league, or so it seems. Nobody has invited Thomas for a visit just yet. The 32 year old might have some gas in the tank, and coaches Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham might be the guys who can get the most out of the fumes left. Neither will take the crap that Thomas dished out in New England. Both will also give him the boot if he doesn’t show up on the field.

If Thomas gets desperate and plays for cheap, the Lions could be the best chance for him to start. Again, Thomas is a guy the Lions would wait until after June 1st to sign. He is the most likely to me of any free agent to land in the Honolulu blue.

Final Thoughts:  

 Even though it seems the Lions should add some type of depth into the mix at linebacker, it really might not be the solution to an already strong position on the field. Most Lions fans were surprised that this staff didn’t draft a linebacker in the middle rounds of the draft, but that might be simply because the talent wasn’t there. This is a defense that needed to improve all around, one peice at a time. Adding a lot of these names would not improve this defense for the long haul.

Giving playing time to Jordan Dizon and Zack Follett would.

Sure, Follett and Dizon might be the weak links in a strong corps of linebackers. They might not have much in-game experience. For Dizon, he is a bit undersized. Both have been in top notch programs and shown up. Both are in the good graces of the coaching staff. To me, both deserve a chance to earn the starting spot, and both deserve to find playing time in 2010.

It will be interesting to see the direction the staff goes as June approaches and free agents begin to land. I wouldn’t be opposed to Detroit adding some talent at the position, but as the old ball coach says, “let the kids play!”

Plus, I don’t want to find out the Zack Follett was murdered in a tragic OTA accident.

(Joe Dexter is the lead blogger at SideLion Report. For more commentary and analysis, follow the SideLion Report on Twitter.)

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Tags: Adalius Thomas Gunther Cunningham Jordan Dizon Keith Bulluck Matt Roth Zack Follett

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