The Lions know who their linebackers will be for the 2006 NFL season; they're just not exactly sure where they will be.
Barring any major shakeups, the three starters will be chosen from a group of four -- three veterans and Ernie Sims, their first-round pick in the April draft. But there is at least a strong possibility that all of the veterans will be playing a position different than they played last season.
The three veterans involved in the shakeup are Boss Bailey, the former strong-side linebacker now being projected to move to the middle; Teddy Lehman, who played on the strong side as a rookie, trained in the middle behind Earl Holmes and is now being considered as a strong-side contender; and James Davis, who has been a starter at the weak side but now could find himself competing for the strong-side job.
Sims is considered a perfect fit for the weak-side position but he will have to win the confidence of coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson before he gets the job.
Bailey will probably face the biggest adjustment of all the linebackers, considering he has never played in the middle and is coming off foot surgery that kept him out of all the off-season workouts.
That has not damped his enthusiasm for taking a shot at the new position, however.
"It's very interesting," Bailey said. "It's a new challenge for me. I played outside pretty much my whole career and in college, so it's a new challenge for me. I'm confident I can get it done because while I was playing outside I always made sure I learned all the positions."
The linebacker realignment is being necessitated by Henderson's style of defense, which puts a premium on fast, athletic linebackers capable of running down plays from sideline to sideline. And the middle linebacker job came open when the Lions decided not to pursue Holmes when he became a free agent.
"The way they're trying to coach it, the schemes they're trying to run, it's only fitting for a guy like me to be in the middle," said Bailey. "Because of the speed, the quickness and the scheme, where we're going to try to run cover 2 a lot and make things bounce outside more."
It remains to be seen if Bailey will be fully ready to return to work when the Lions open training camp on July 27, but he has done all he could to learn the job in meetings.
"Mentally, I'm doing everything and more, doing extra stuff mentally because
I can't do everything physically," he said, "but I'm in the meetings and
rehabbing and working out."