Iron will sharpen iron as Detroit Lions' linebacking corps battles for spots

Detroit Lions v New England Patriots
Detroit Lions v New England Patriots / Nick Grace/GettyImages

Linebacker has become a deep spot on the Detroit Lions roster, and the entire defense will be better for it.

For many years, a big piece of the Detroit Lions struggles on defense could be traced to a lack of enough impact plays from their linebackers. Slowly but surely, it has gotten better with rookies added to the mix in each of the the three drafts led by general manager Brad Holmes (Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez and Jack Campbell).

Alex Anzalone is coming off the best season of his career, and the Lions brought him back on a multi-year deal this offseason to continue to be a veteran leader and the "green dot" guy on the field. He is not one of the best off-ball linebackers in the league, but his intangibles are clearly valued highly (too much?) by the Lions.

If you were to pencil in the Lions' two starting linebackers for Week 1, in their base nickel defense, they would be Anzalone and most likely Campbell over Rodriguez. But no one should be ruled out from a prominent role, since injuries happen, etc.

Iron will sharpen iron in Detroit Lions linebacker competition

Via Ben Raven of MLive, Lions head coach Dan Campbell recently talked about the team's linebacker situation. Starting with Anzalone as the man who runs the show.

"And here’s the beauty of Alex, Alex can play MIKE and WILL,” Dan Campbell said. “And so now it’s, ‘OK, let’s go, Barnes. Let’s go, (Jack) Campbell. Let’s go, Rodriguez.’ And you just let them duke it out. We’ve got ‘Germ’ (Reeves-Maybin) back, and thinking about him special teams first and foremost, but he brings a level of experience as well.

“I just think, there again, man, you’re adding another guy who’s trying to go in there and compete and help us win. Hopefully he’s (Jack Campbell) trying to earn a position and with that. It’s only going to put more pressure on the guy next to you to compete and be on top of your game.”"

With better linebacker play naturally comes better run defense, and ideally better defense of running backs and tight ends in the passing game. The Lions have devoted some notable resources to making that happen. Campbell enters the mix after posting Pro Football Focus' best coverage grade among FBS linebackers (92.9) last year at Iowa, to say nothing of his raw production over his final two college seasons.

And with better play in the middle of the field from the linebackers, the entire Lions' defense will residually benefit.

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