With less than a week to go before his first regular season game as an NFL head coach, Rod Marinelli has a bit of a problem with his linebackers.
Fortunately for him, it's a problem that most of his league peers would love to have.
Marinelli, who brought his Tampa 2 defensive scheme in Detroit, has yet to settle on a group of starting linebackers for Sunday's season opener against Seattle. During the preseason, Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson played musical chairs, attempting to find a group that blended the perfect combination of size, speed and -- most importantly -- on field chemistry.
The problem is that most of team's linebackers have all of the above, and many have shown enough versatility to play more than one of the three sub-positions. And as of Monday's practice, the lineup was still a work in progress.
"I'm not really sure (who will start), we'll kind of let it play out during the week," said Marinelli. "Right now Alex (Lewis) worked at the 'Sam' backer today; Paris (Lenon) worked at the 'Mike' and he can also can play 'Sam'. Ernie (Sims) is just going to play 'Will' -- we don't mess around with him.
"Boss (Bailey) is a 'Mike' and you have LeVar (Woods) in the mix and everything. So right now we're kind of rotating those four to five guys in all the positions. If somebody goes down we're in good shape, so that's the biggest thing right now. We'll play it out as the week goes."
The ideal lineup throughout the off-season was Bailey in the middle, flanked by Sims and Teddy Lehman. The unit possessed above average speed with strong tackling ability and leadership. But injuries will force Lehman to miss the first part of the season, while Bailey continues to play catch-up with the rest of the defense after sitting out the majority of training camp and preseason.
While Woods and Curry continue to push Bailey to start in the middle, Lewis
has been a practice and preseason standout. Normally recognized as a reserve
weakside backer behind Sims, Lewis has played himself into the likelihood of
starting opposite Sims.
"He is so explosive," said Marinelli. "The one side, the 'Sam' backer in our package, he's the one backer we'll blitz a little more than the others. The 'Sam' is one and the 'Will' is two. He becomes an edge rusher for us. He's (Lewis) a really explosive player now, I'm very happy with his progress, the kicking game, everything.
"He really has come alive. He'll keep working this week and he's played all 'Sam' today and I plan on him doing it tomorrow."
The Lions are getting healthier, demonstrated by the return of starting right tackle Rex Tucker. Tucker practiced all day Monday, and while he is still questionable for Sunday's season opener, his return is a welcomed sight to Marinelli.
"It was good -- I mean it's unbelievable," said Marinelli. "It must be the water they drink down in Texas, him (Tucker) and (Dan) Campbell. He (Tucker) went out and worked on it, it was exciting. We'll see how he feels tomorrow and get him in pads on Wednesday and see how we're going."
Marinelli didn't come right out and say it, but it is evident that Josh McCown has the backup quarterback position secured in Detroit.
McCown took more reps at practice than Dan Orlovsky, and coupled with Orlovsky's steep preseason slide, the official depth chart will soon reflect what most predicted in April.
"Rep wise I think Josh has done a great job," said Marinelli. "We feel good about where Josh is at right now."
Before Monday's practice, Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli announced the team's captains for the 2006 campaign. They are defensive lineman James Hall, cornerback Dre' Bly, quarterback Jon Kitna, center Dominic Raiola and special teams master Donte' Curry.
"The team chose them, and that's what's really important," said Marinelli. "They are seeing the same things that we are seeing, and that's exciting."