Titans expose Lions' makeshift linebackers corps

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Titans' Delanie Walker rumbles into the end zone with Lions Rafael Bush and Nevin Lawson for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Detroit – Expect the "Help Wanted" sign to be well-lit up on the grounds in Allen Park this week.

The Lions very likely will need to find some linebackers, and then some.

DeAndre Levy (quad) was a late scratch for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans, and during the game, Kyle Van Noy (calf) and rookie Antwione Williams (thigh) exited and didn't return.

By game's end, only two linebackers remained, Tahir Whitehead and Thurston Armbrister, a waiver pickup who began the season on the practice squad.

There were two other key injuries, as well – one on defense (Ziggy Ansah, left ankle) and one on offense (Ameer Abdullah, left foot). Neither returned after leaving.

"You know, that's why you have guys that play second- and third-team," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after the 16-15 loss. "That's why they're there. They have got to be able to step up and play. Some young guys went in there and did an admirable job. We'll take a look at it and see the details of it. We just got to play better. It doesn't matter who is in there.

"That's what pro football is all about. You're going to have some attrition sometimes, more than you like in some games."

Caldwell, per his protocol, wouldn't offer any updates on the severity of the injuries.

He also wouldn't say how close Levy was to playing Sunday, after missing practice much of the week.

As for the depleted linebacker corps, there is one linebacker currently on the practice squad, Steve Longa out of Rutgers.

"It's always tough, regardless of who is in the game," safety Glover Quin said of any potential communication issues down the stretch, with so many new guys rotating in. "But it's no excuse. I mean, it's no excuse.

"If you're in the game, you've got to be ready to play. Communication, technique, everything we all practice. We all sit in the same meetings, so we don't make excuses. We just have to get it done."

Once the linebacker corps was down to Whitehead and Armbrister – an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Fla.), who signed with the Lions in September – Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota definitely started to perk up a bit.

On the winning touchdown drive, he attacked the middle of the field.

The winning score was caught in front of Whitehead and Rafael Bush. Several of the passes on the drive went in Whitehead and Armbrister's direction.

"Just gotta play more aggressive," Whitehead said. "It's all a learning curve."

Ansah, of course, could be a huge loss, as well. He had 14.5 sacks last season, third-most in the NFL. The Lions were able to sack Mariota three times Sunday.

On offense, meanwhile, the Lions were able to run the ball – 137 yards (to 138 penalty yards, by the way) – with a rather-balanced attack. Abdullah had 38 yards on six carries before departing, including one 24-yard run where he eluded several tackles and energized the crowd.

"Definitely a playmaker, and definitely an asset when he's on the field," Golden Tate said. "Pray for his speedy recovery. I can't wait to get him back on the field. We need all the playmakers we can get on the field.

"A guy goes down, and somebody needs to step up and make a play."

A look at the Lions' key injuries:
► DE Ziggy Ansah, left ankle
► LB DeAndre Levy, quad
► OLB Kyle Van Noy, calf
► OLB Antwione Williams, thigh
► RB Ameer Abdullah, left foot