While they wait out the Larry Foote scenario in Pittsburgh, the Detroit Lions will focus on the middle linebackers that they have on the roster.
And one in particular.
During Detroit's three-day rookie mini-camp, the Lions have moved the Wisconsin outside linebacker DeAndre Levy to the middle. It was an assumed move once Detroit tabbed Levy in the third-round of last weekend's NFL draft, and thus far, head coach Jim Schwartz seems comfortable with the decision.
“Physically he looks like he fits there (in the middle)," said Schwartz of the 6-1, 236-pounder. "But again I want to caution that until we get mouth pieces and shoulder pads and those kinds of things, and you’re taking on full backs live and you’re taking on running backs live, you have a hard time completing that evaluation; but drill work, athletically hitting the sleds, those kinds of things, he looks like he’s right at home in there.”
The Lions will employ a 4-3 defense in 2009, which necessitates three linebackers and four linemen. The team opted not to re-sign veteran Paris Lenon, who started -- and struggled -- most of last year at the position. They have a profound interest in Pittsburgh Steelers' inside linebacker and former University of Michigan standout Larry Foote, and although that interest is mutual (he was a no-show at Pittsburgh's mandatory mini-camp, and there's league-wide anticipation of his impending release), Foote is still technically under contract with Pittsburgh.
Which means the Lions can't even discuss him. At least not publicly, anyway.
So for now, it's Levy or bust.
The team will flank the new man-in-the-middle with the effective duo of veteran Julian Peterson and hard-hitting Ernie Sims. Schwartz feels Levy would fit in nicely.
“When he strikes you, he knocks people back," said Schwartz. "He has that 4.5-5 type speed and he’s able to create some collisions and be able to build some explosion through speed.”
Typically, the middle linebacker is considered the quarterback of a defense. However, under defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, the "MIKE" position would have no more responsibility than any other position.
As Schwartz put it, it's not a very "mentally taxing" position.
“Quite honestly in our defense that’s not that big a deal," said Schwartz. "It’s not that big of a difference between an outside player and an inside player. It’s not like a quarterback on offense and maybe a tight end or something like that. Everybody on defense is responsible for making calls. It’s not one person that makes every call over there, so it’s not as big of a concern.”
But there is a difference between practicing with rookies, and practicing with the veterans. Detroit will hold a mini-camp involving both the rookies and veterans beginning May 18.
And that, acording to Schwartz, will gauge Levy's true value in the middle.
"These players have been training for the combine, they’ve been training to look good for scouts which is a lot different than what our players here have done," said Schwartz. "At the time of May 18, these (veteran) players will have about 10 weeks in our offseason program, a lot of on the field work, a lot of OTA’s and the whole sort of goal of this weekend is to make sure that the rookies can close that gap when they come back on May 18, that they’re ready to compete rather than having to ease them into practice.”