The Detroit Lions biggest area of competition on the roster this offseason will be at the linebacker position, because it seems like only Stephen Tulloch, who is recovering from an injury, and DeAndre Levy have set roles with the team. Josh Bynes, Tahir Whitehead, and Kyle Van Noy are three notable names who are looking to get some playing time, so competition for the outside linebacker spot opposite of Levy will be worth watching. The Lions used something of a platoon at inside linebacker last year to replace Tulloch, with Whitehead also getting snaps in the mix.
During the offseason, the Lions decided not to tender Bynes as a restricted free agent in an effort to save as much money as possible to keep Ndamukong Suh, but they re-signed him to a two-year, $1.81 million right on the day of the new league year. At that point, Suh’s signing with the Miami Dolphins was already a done deal, and the Lions were able to bring back Bynes for even less than the RFA tender, which was set at about $1.3 million.
Per Pro Football Focus, Bynes took 212 snaps last season and recorded 22 tackles with an interception and a fumble recovery in his first season with the Lions, spending time at different linebacker spots. However, Bynes is a liability in coverage and a strong run defender, and he’s ideally a 3-4 inside linebacker. He played his best football in that set-up as a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, recording 45 tackles with consistently solid work in run defense.
That said, Bynes can successfully be a strong-side 4-3 OLB where more of his responsibilities are in the running game, and that is indeed the open spot in the Lions lineup with Levy locking down the weak side with his speed and excellent work in all facets of the game. Perhaps Bynes is better as a middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme, but the only way he plays there is if Tulloch gets injured again.
Bynes and Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin worked together back when Austin was the Ravens defensive backs coach in the 2013 season, so he is regarded as a coach’s favorite. It’s one explanation for why he was brought back so quickly after the free agent market opened up, and it’s a reason why he was able to get a two-year deal with a $250,000 signing bonus. The contract is definitely a modest one, but two-down run-stuffers who aren’t expected to have a starting role generally don’t garner much more than that.
I mean, it still doesn’t make it any less of a good deal from the Detroit Lions perspective, and Bynes will have a role for this team in 2015 despite the heavy competition at the position. Even if he doesn’t manage to get a platoon role as a run-stuffer at SAM, he’ll be a top backup and will have some value on special teams for the Lions.
At this point, it’s hard to see Bynes starting with Kyle Van Noy in there, and Whitehead is a possibility if he can play MLB after being the Lions main replacement for Tulloch last season, logging well over 700 snaps as a middle linebacker. He also outplayed Bynes, so if he can be a fit there, then he could start.Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Josh Bynes (57) during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
We could see a time-share at the position, but Van Noy is an interesting and talented second-year player to watch after an injury ruined his rookie season. We’ll see exactly where he lines up on defense, because he has pass rushing ability that Lions can tap into.
I think Van Noy is the favorite to start on the strong-side with Whitehead and Bynes also in the mix, with Whitehead being the main source of competition.
As for Josh Bynes, he’s ideally a top backup for the Lions who can get some playing time at middle linebacker to spell Tulloch or Van Noy and Whitehead at outside linebacker in something of a two-down role.
It’s unclear how everyone fits into the puzzle at the linebacker position in Detroit, because there are plenty of bodies competing for snaps; we’ll have a better idea in the preseason.
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