Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy goes skyward to intercept an awkward pass from Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden last Sunday. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park ó Lions outside linebacker DeAndre Levy said there was a moment before his senior year at Wisconsin when he asked himself if he was doing all he could to be the best football player he could be.
He didn't want to cut any corners, and he didn't want to have any regrets in his football career.
"It just doesnít last forever," Levy said. "I donít want to look back and say I cut myself short in any way."
Levy's worth ethic paid off with solid play in his first four seasons with the Lions, enough to warrant his three-year contract in March, but now more than ever, the team is seeing the benefits of his consistent effort. He's tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions, already a career high, and he leads the Lions with 49 tackles and six pass breakups.
Levy, though, doesn't want any glory or attention and downplayed the idea that this season has been special.
"I think there are still some things to improve upon," he said. "We left some plays out on the field. I think we all agree on that, but we just want to continue to win and improve as a defense."
Some of Levy's work ethic comes from his family, he said. Both of his parents still work full-time jobs, his dad on the line at a steel factory and his mom at a medical office.
Although adequate, Levy rarely made splash plays early in his career after being drafted in the third round in 2009. He had one sack, five interceptions (he did return one for a score) and two forced fumbles in his first four seasons.
Now, though, Levy is playing Pro Bowl-level football and his experience has helped him progress. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham compared Levy's career path to Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who has had 140-plus tackles in each of the past three seasons and went to his first Pro Bowl in his fifth season (2011).
"You just start to pick up on things teams are doing a little bit," Levy said. "You donít have to think as much in the meeting room. You kind of see sets and see what teams are doing on film and kind of naturally get a feel for things. I think that helps you relax a little bit as opposed to focusing on the X's and O's in your playbook."
Much of Levy's success this season has come in coverage, and he's a key reason the Lions have slowed opposing tight ends.
In the fourth quarter last week, Levy saw a play breaking down. Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya was running along the sideline as quarterback Brandon Weeden was flushed from the pocket. Although most will remember Weeden's inexcusable underhand flip, Cunningham was impressed by Levy's game-sealing interception.
"I almost jumped out of the press box because he'd given up a couple of those in the last few years, and he was ready for it," Cunningham said.
Levy had a few injuries earlier in his career, missing five games in 2010 with a groin injury and a hamstring issue that kept him out of two games last season.
To stay healthy, Levy has been a dedicated gym rat and tries to keep the same routine every week. He spends so much time lifting weights and stretching out on a foam roll after practice that he hasn't been in the locker room once this season during media availability four days per week. On Friday, Levy spoke to reporters about 45 minutes after most players had already left the locker room.
Although some of that is due to Levy's training, he's also just a quiet guy.
"When I first got here, Levy didnít say anything," linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "Now he's talking a little bit more. I thought he was mute when I first got here. After a while he opened up a little bit, but he's all business. I guarantee right now he's probably in the weight room rolling on the foam roller."
Sure enough, Tulloch was right.
Levy is focused on doing whatever he can to stay on the field.
"When I look back and regret maybe cutting a corner here or there and just try to be consistent," he said. "You're going to be beat up, but you've got to learn how to build and prepare and play and perform regardless of what's going on."
If what's going on now continues, Levy will be in the Pro Bowl this January.
"I think it's still early, but I think that would be fun," he said.
Levy has been to Hawaii twice, once for a basketball tournament in high school, then in 2005 for a Wisconsin football game.
"I hate beaches," he said. "I tell people that all the time."