The Detroit Lions linebackers have long been a weakness on defense. However, a new hire could mean big improvement coming soon at the position.
The Detroit Lions made a lot of changes this offseason to the coaching staff after a disappointing 3-12-1 season. Among the changes head coach Matt Patricia made include the inside linebackers coach position, which was most recently filled by Al Golden. With Golden leading them the Lions’ linebackers were among the worst group in the league despite having quite a bit of talent at their disposal.
The Lions’ linebackers were constantly below-average to plain awful in coverage and did not provide much hope in general with their play. Possibly the best thing you could say about them is that they were decent at rushing the coverage on delayed blitz play-calls.
After multiple seasons of underachieving play, head coach Patricia cut ties with Golden and started searching for his replacement this offseason. It seems he has been found.
Patricia recently hired former New England Patriots linebacker and Tennessee Titans linebacker coach Tyrone McKenzie. While no announcement has yet been made on what role he will fill, it makes sense to assume he will take over coaching the inside linebackers.
Most recently, McKenzie has spent the last two seasons coaching on the Titans’ staff and more specifically the inside linebackers last year. He also spent some time on the Los Angeles Rams coaching staff in 2017. As the inside linebackers coach in Tennessee, McKenzie immediately got his players to provide a much larger impact on the defense and overall improvement in their play.
Many people around the NFL, both in the media and across the league alike, seem to like McKenzie and have a good opinion of him. His recent work with young linebackers Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans, and David Long in Tennessee have caught the attention of many people, clearly including Patricia and company.
McKenzie has quickly built a reputation for being able to develop young linebackers and has a personal way of coaching his players, once taking the Titans’ linebackers to play paintball. Michael Gallagher of NashvillePost.com actually brought McKenzie as a potential replacement for recently-retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees saying he has a future defensive coordinator written all over him.
Gallagher also noted the development of the linebackers under McKenzie in Tennessee.
"“(Jayon) Brown has seen an increase in his total tackles under McKenzie, jumping from 52 to 97 in his first year and up to 105 this season. (Rashaan) Evans also showed big signs of improvement this season, leaping from 53 tackles last year to 111 this season with 2.5 sacks.”"
McKenzie clearly improved the level of play from the linebackers by twofold. Hopefully he can get the same kind of improvement in play from Lions linebackers Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai, Christian Jones, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
All four of those linebackers have the physical tools needed to succeed in the NFL. However, no one has yet been able to unlock all of the untapped potential.
McKenzie, who has a knack for getting his players to perform up to their highest level of ability, could be just the guy that is needed to improve the linebackers in Detroit. Even though the Lions have two ‘backers on the roster that were drafted on either day one or two, they don’t have anyone who really excels in coverage.
Signing a coverage linebacker in free agency or drafting one in the rookie draft this year would give the Lions a complete linebacker room, and with the kind of coaching McKenzie provides, could potentially take them from a bottom five unit in the league to at-worst a league average unit.
After hearing so many good things about McKenzie from multiple people around the NFL scene and seeing the improvement from his players after just one year of coaching, it is looking like the middle of the Lions defense could be about to see a big improvement.