It's not the greatest timing for a struggling defense. but the Detroit Lions will likely be without linebacker Alex Anzalone on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints (and perhaps longer). Someone will have to step up, but the Lions are deep at linebacker.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn pointed directly at rookie Jack Campbell as who will step up most in Anzalone's absence. It apparently has roots in linebacker meetings, when Glenn asks Anzalone not to say anything to see who speaks up.
"When we’re in meetings, and sometimes I tell Alex (Anzalone) don’t say anything because it’s easier for him for the most part,” Glenn said. “The next voice that you’re going to hear is Jack and that’s encouraging because what he does in the meeting actually translates to what he’s going to do on the field. And he understands this defense like the back of his hands now.”
Lions counting on Jack Campbell to step up and step into leadership role without Alex Anzalone
When asked how on-field communication will change without Anzalone, Glenn said "well, that's the reason we got Jack."
"He’s a true MIKE backer. And he has to be the one that makes all those checks and he’s capable of doing that. Smart, heady guy that’s tough. He’s built for these moments. I’m looking forward for him to be the actual mouthpiece of the defense going into this game.”
Translation: Campbell will inherit the "green dot" from Anzalone, as the on-field communicator of defensive calls on Sunday against the Saints and presumably for any more games Anzalone might miss.
The Saints may lean on the ground game on Sunday as they deal with some key injuries at wide receiver. Running back Alvin Kamara is average over 100 yards from scrimmage per game this season, and he also leads all running backs in receptions this year (54) despite missing three games. So Campbell will be tested in pass coverage, an area he has has struggles in. Anzalone has graded out as one of the league's best linebackers in that area this season.
Campbell was the centerpiece of a very good defense at Iowa during his college career, so this step up is not a totally new role for him. He's had the expected ups and downs a rookie will have this year, but now is his moment to step up as the Lions look to get on the right track as a defensive unit.