As Dan Campbell acknowledged linebacker Alex Anzalone’s biggest area of weakness, it stands as the reason he’ll lose his starting job.
The Detroit Lions were last year, and to some degree still are this year, thin at linebacker. If the season started today, Alex Anzalone would be one of the starters.
Anzalone followed head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn from New Orleans to Detroit last offseason. He was productive on the surface in 2021, with 78 tackles and seven pass breakups over 14 games as he played nearly every snap in the games he finished healthy.
But Anzalone was graded very poorly overall by Pro Football Focus, rooted in being credited with 15 missed tackles by Pro Football Reference (16.1 percent missed tackle rate). On any other team he would have been, and would be, a clear-cut backup and special teamer.
Dan Campbell emphasizes reason Alex Anzalone should not start
Lions head coach Dan Campbell said he still has faith in Anzalone, but he openly acknowledged a core issue.
"When you go through a season and you get tired and you’re playing a lot, you have to cue into the technique, the fundamentals of everything,” Anzalone said. “Your pad level, your drops, your tackling, your hands. I think that’s something definitely I want to improve on and that’s something that can take me to the next level.”"
What does the next level look like?
"Making tackles three yards or less, just in the run game, playing down hill, playing fast, doing all those things will take my game to the next step,” he (Anzalone) said."
Anzalone basically said he played too much last season, as the Lions lacked better options. He also finished the season on IR.
On the flip side of Anzalone trying to fix last year’s prominent struggle area, rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has been a standout thus far in training camp.
Campbell and Glenn seem to place high value Anzalone’s leadership and overall intangibles. But those things should not be valued over actual playing ability, and he was not up to par last year.
Anzalone’s comments on Wednesday sound like something a backup would say. Rodriguez is coming for his starting job. The question is if he’ll be allowed to take it away, and early signs out of training camp say yes if the rookie out of Oklahoma State can keep that momentum going.