Linebackers give Lions stability on defense

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Opposing coordinators will have fits preparing for the Detroit Lions' front four, but the team is hoping the three men behind them cause just as much consternation.

Veteran linebackers Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant return for their second season together and bring plenty of stability after starting a combined 44 games last fall. Playing behind a line that includes the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Cliff Avril only should help.

''We've got three pretty darn good linebackers,'' defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said Saturday. ''They look better in this camp as I've seen them since they've been here.''

Consistency, he added, will be the biggest key for the unit this season.

Despite having an imposing front four, the Lions still ranked 23rd in the NFL last season against the run and in yardage allowed. Tulloch and Durant, free agents a season ago, said a year under the scheme has made this summer's camp a lot easier.

''We definitely know how to work off each other's strengths,'' said Tulloch, who had 11 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions from the middle spot last season. ''It makes a big difference going through it together like we did.

''We have some good young depth behind us, but we just need to get those guys some work.''

Durant missed three games early last season but still finished with 68 stops.

''A whole year under our belts and an extra offseason has really meant a lot,'' he said. ''Now it's like I know what Tully is going to call and I know where Levy is going to be all the time.''

Levy, part of a linebacker corps that often was a weak spot before the arrival of his two current mates, started the entire season and had 109 tackles and an interception.

There's precious little experience beyond the first three linebackers, but depth could come from a pair of rookies. Tahir Whitehead, a fifth-round pick out of Temple, and seventh-rounder Travis Lewis from Oklahoma have showed promise during the first week of camp.

Tackles Suh and Fairley lined up on the outside during some drills Saturday and Cunningham said the Lions will do all they can to take advantage of the pair's athleticism. That's just fine with Tulloch.

''If those guys are confusing people, it just makes it easier for me to get downhill and make a play,'' he said. ''Those guys are great athletes and all they can do is help us.''

Consistency remains the buzzword for the linebackers, but coach Jim Schwartz doesn't seem worried.

''We expect to be improved at every position, not just linebacker, but everyone,'' he said. ''Those guys all have a good attitude for improvement.

''We don't really establish a fine line, but they're all good, hard workers and come to work every day.''

The Lions make their exhibition debut Aug. 10 when Cleveland visits. St. Louis comes to town Sept. 9 in the season opener.

NOTES: S Louis Delmas missed another day of practice due to soreness but neither Schwartz nor Cunningham seemed concerned by the fourth-year veteran's absence. . The Lions released rookie LB Ronnie Sneed and signed second-year LB Korey Bosworth on Saturday. ... Avril continued his holdout. . Some fans arrived at the team's training facility as early as 5:30 a.m. and were surprised to find a special greeter. Schwartz walked out to meet fans around 8 a.m. as the team prepared for practice. ''I wanted to say hello to the people that got here at 5 or 6 in the morning,'' the coach said. ''They were here before I was.''

Tagged: Lions, Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy

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