The Return of No. 54? Lehman Learning in Middle

Former Oklahoma standout and second-round pick Teddy Lehman is making strides at the middle linebacker position, where he is competing with veteran Earl Holmes. Thus far, the Lions like what they see in their new No. 54.

Barking out signals, directing defensive traffic, and chasing down the opposition's running back with terrific speed and agility. As No. 54 relies upon instinct to sniff out the offensive play, memories of former Lions' middle linebacker Chris Spielman flood the mind.

And rookie linebacker Teddy Lehman is simply trying to avoid making a mistake.

Teddy Lehman, a former Oklahoma standout and April's second-round pick. The new No. 54 in Detroit.

The plan with Lehman all along was to eventually work him into the middle linebacker position, despite playing on the outside in college. With great instincts, speed, and keen leadership ability, the writing was on the wall: Lehman's NFL position would be in the middle.

One week into training camp, he is already pushing veteran and current starter Earl Holmes.

"He's got a good guy to learn from, not only (defensive coordinator) Dick Jauron and (linebackers coach) Richard Smith coaching him, but Earl Holmes playing the same position," said head coach Steve Mariucci. "Earl is pretty good about sharing information even though he is competing for a spot. Teddy didn't come in here and get thrown to the wolves, 'Here, learn it,' on a daily basis.

"He's got somebody else to watch who has been there, done that. He is on a fast track to learn this, but he doesn't have to start in the first game."

At Oklahoma, Lehman played primarily on the outside, and had a specific assignment within each defensive package. Although that leveraged his speed and instincts, he possesses even more skills that can be utilized in the middle.

"When you play inside, you've got things going on both sides of you, plus he's making the calls and he's got to communicate very well," Mariucci said, in regards to the middle linebacker position. "He's got a good voice. He communicates well. He's a confident guy. When he says something, he means it. He just has to get reps in the middle.

"There is a certain learning curve that is going to take place over time, but we think that he can be a long-term middle linebacker, but he is behind Earl Holmes still."

After losing outside linebacker Barrett Green in free-agency, the Lions were able to use draft-day trades to secure Lehman early in the second round – a steal according to most draft experts. But after taking linebacker Alex Lewis in the fifth round, to compliment last year's selections Boss Bailey and James Davis, both outside linebackers, the Lions' plans became blatantly obvious. Handing him No. 54 solidified the notion.

Davis has recognized Lehman's progress already.

"After five days I feel like Teddy's a real good player," said Davis, who was chosen out of West Virginia last year. "I see him on the field and he's doing some amazing things, so he's surprised me a lot. I feel like he's going to be a real good player. He's going to come along real good."

Still, Mariucci isn't quite ready to hand over the reigns just yet.

"Earl is the incumbent (starter)," said Mariucci. "He's our veteran and he knows our defense very well. He's got a lot of experience in this league, so right now it's his job to keep, to share, or however we end up playing him.

"Right now Earl is doing a good job and I think they're pushing each other. Earl is a better player now than he was a year ago because he was new to our scheme last year. So we've got a couple of middle linebackers there that we like."

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