The Detroit Lions linebackers of last season were unspectacularly consistent. Justin Durant, Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy combined for 297 tackles and were the top three team leaders in that category last season. Durant is now a Dallas Cowboy, which leaves one starting spot available and will be one of the most watched battles during camp and the preseason.
Stephen Tulloch signed a five year deal to remain with the Lions prior to last season. Tulloch is the leader of the linebacking corps and will be looked upon to provide leadership to whoever fills the void left by Durant. Tulloch will play consistent football and has been durable over his career. Expect him to start sixteen games this season.
Levy enters his fifth year out of the University of Wisconsin. He has made double digit starts in each of his first four seasons and is expected, barring injury, to start in Detroit as the weak-side linebacker this season after starting 13 games there a year ago.
Strong-side linebacker features three potential candidates in Lewis, Palmer and Whitehead. Now is probably the time to admit to being a huge Whitehead fan. I’ve loved his game since I watched his tape from his time at Temple after the Lions drafted him in 2012. I love his athleticism and I believe he’s a gamer if given the chance, and I hope Detroit gives him that chance as the starter in week one.
Palmer and Lewis are by no means poor candidates for the job. Lewis is a jack-of-all-trades type player. He doesn’t excel in any one area, nor does he possess elite athleticism or upside. Lewis is, simply put, a football player. He’ll do his job, and he’ll do it consistently.
Palmer has made a living during his first five seasons playing on special teams, and 2013 offers his first real chance at a starting spot since being drafted out of Mississippi. Palmer has just 9 career starts to his resume, but that is exactly nine more starts than Whitehead and Lewis have combined. Palmer’s best chance at winning the starting job this season lies in his experience.
While Palmer is likely the best candidate to fill the position this season, the future of this position belong to Tahir Whitehead. As much as it pains me to say, Palmer will start for Detroit week one.
Look for the two “losers” of the strong-side position to stick on the roster as very capable backups as well as special teams players. Messina became the preseason darling of many last season and could be a favorite for that sixth linebacker spot on the roster. Hepburn was drafted in the seventh round and could be a developmental player, while Greenwood, Morgan, and Elkins have an uphill battle toward making the roster.