DeAndre Levy and his beard are having a breakout season
Every month is “Movember” for Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy.
“It’s ‘No Shave Ever,'” said Levy, whose beard is at about its one-year anniversary.
“Just let it go,” Levy added of his facial-hair approach. “Don’t maintain it. I’ve trimmed it down like twice, just to get a fresh coat in.”
A couple months ago, Levy was best known for that beard and the rats he claims he dined on during an off-season adventure through the rainforest in Peru.
Lately, however, Levy has been making a name for himself on the field, too. He leads the NFL with six interceptions entering the final four games of the season.
Levy, a third-round draft pick by the Lions in 2009, could become the first linebacker to lead the league outright since Bulldog Turner, a two-way player for the Chicago Bears, had eight interceptions in 1942.
Don Shinnick, a linebacker for the Baltimore Colts, finished in a three-way tie for the lead with seven interceptions in 1959.
Otherwise, it’s a title that typically goes to the most opportunistic defensive backs, but Levy has one more pick through 12 games than both New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle and Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Levy, an outside linebacker, insists his focus is far from such individual achievements.
“It’s a critical stretch for us, hopefully it won’t be in vain and we can finish this thing out the right way and get to the playoffs,” Levy said after getting another interception on Thanksgiving Day in a rout of division rival Green Bay.
Few, if any, could have seen this type of breakout coming going into this season. In his first four years in the league, Levy had a total of five interceptions. He also had only two in his four years in college at Wisconsin.
All of a sudden, the ball keeps finding him, and although he’s dropped a couple other chances for interceptions, Levy is taking advantage of the opportunities more often than not.
The six interceptions are the most by any linebacker since Oakland’s Thomas Howard also had a half dozen in 2007.
With one more, Levy will tie for the most interceptions by a linebacker in the last 38 years, since Baltimore’s Stan White picked off eight in 1975.
Linebackers with seven interceptions in a season since then include Philadelphia’s William Thomas (1995), the New York Jets’ Lance Mehl (1983), Atlanta’s Al Richardson (1980), White (1977), Chicago’s Ross Brupbacher (1976) and Denver’s Tom Jackson (1976).
Levy also ranks tied for 14th in the NFL with 95 combined tackles, two behind teammate Stephen Tulloch, the Lions’ middle linebacker.
It should all help assure that Levy is the Lions’ first linebacker selected to the Pro Bowl since Stephen Boyd in 2001.
“That would be cool,” said Levy, reiterating that he’s more concerned about his team finishing strong to win a division title. “There’s been ups and downs. I think the big thing for me is just being consistent.
“You just want to be in the right position. I’m glad they keep throwing it my way. It feels good right now.”
Levy, whose impressive start in 2012 was slowed significantly by a midseason hamstring injury that hampered him the rest of the way, was one of two Detroit linebackers who became unrestricted free agents after last season.
The popular belief at the time was that the Lions were probably more likely to re-sign Justin Durant rather than Levy.
ProFootballFocus.com ranked Durant as the NFL’s No. 18 outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense last year while Levy was way down at No. 40.
But the Lions moved fairly quickly to re-up with Levy for three years and nearly $10 million before letting Durant sign with Dallas.
“I think he always had good instincts,” coach Jim Schwartz said of Levy. “He is very smart. I think what’s probably been the difference with DeAndre, he’s just gaining more and more experience as he plays and he’s in the right place at the right time.”
What often happens with players is as they gain that experience, the game slows down somewhat for them, allowing them to think less and anticipate more. In the process, their athleticism shows through.
That seems to be happening to a degree with Levy, who has helped silence the critics of the Lions’ often-maligned group of linebackers.
Levy said there’s also been a philosophical change in approach, leacing to a more attacking style to get to the football.
“I’m just trusting my instincts a little more,” Levy said. “Stop trying to be so textbook about things. If you see something, go there and make the play.”
He’s seeing, he’s going and he’s making plays at a rate that is very rare for someone at his position.