Of the many things we can say about how Martin Mayhew is building the Lions, one is that he drafts talent and shops free agents for need. He is also all about "value" - he isn't going to break the bank Millen style for that "one guy" if he has 5 or 6 or more holes.
Most significant in the Lions developing over the past two years since Mayhew took over is the trend of players who were starters transitioning to backups. Last year this process was done on the defensive line - Guys like Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen who were starting became backups/rotational players. Guys like Landon Cohen, Shaun Cody, and Joe Cohen were shown the door. Now Sammie Hill is developing and blooming into a starting caliber tackle who is valuable in the rotation.
The sign of a good team is solid starters. The sign of a great team is depth.
This year, Mayhew took on the linebacker position. Despite the revolving injury door in the secondary, no position started more backup caliber players last season than at linebacker. Jordon Dizon was lost before the season and never even got a chance to show if he had anything. This was only significant because Levy was also injured most of last season. This left the Lions with about Paris Lenon level talent at MLB.
What followed was Follett, Palmer, Havner, Johnson, Carpenter et al churning through at the position. Carpenter looked really good as he got comfortable. Palmer looked like a solid rotational guy. Everyone else played solid special teams.
Fast Forward to this truncated ifseason -- the Lions drafted Doug Hogue in the 5th, re-signed Carpenter, Levy is healthy and they added Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch. Palmer is also still on the roster -- along with a host of young tryouts and other guys trying to make a special teams roster spot.
In terms of 2010 to 2011 the starters are now backups, and there is very solid depth. Durant and Levy will man the outside spots, and Tulloch will hold down the middle. Levy will still be a 4 down LB as well as serving as the backup middle linebacker. No more Spencer Havner in the middle. +whew+
Backing up the outside spots will be Carpenter first (and I expect him to rotate in frequently), with Palmer next and Hogue mostly special teams and still learning. From the rest of the pile on the roster I expect them to keep Ekejiuba due to his special teams impact.
In other words, if the Lions lose both Tulloch or Durant they would be plugging in Carpenter. Even if they lose two of their three starters -- unless both Tulloch and Levy are injured -- they will still have a solid rotation and at the very least a starting caliber player at the ever important MLB position.
It is phenomenal to see where this team has gone since Martin Mayhew took over amidst the catastrophe of the 2008 0-16 season. Finally Lions players that are released or not re-signed are catching on -- and in some cases starting -- for other teams. To have come so far so fast is a testament to his abilities to create a plan that works and sticking with it. From starters to backups -- the Linebackers are looking like they will no longer be a liability this year. Especially with Detroit's defensive line. IF...