Lions dealing with linebacker shortage

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Linebacker: Tahir Whitehead

Allen Park – Every day the media watches practice from a set of bleachers directly in front of where the Detroit Lions’ linebackers go through their individual drills. On Wednesday, the group was noticeably thinned.

Position coach Bill Sheridan worked with four players, instead of his normal six or seven. Among the four, only two, Tahir Whitehead and Thurston Armbrister, are on the active roster.

It’s still early in the week, but by all appearances, the Lions have problems at the position.

DeAndre Levy hasn’t practiced for more than a week with a quad injury. His backup, rookie Antwione Williams, didn’t even make it to halftime against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday before exiting with a hamstring issue. And Kyle Van Noy, the starter on the strong side, had to exit the contest at the end of the third quarter after hurting his calf.

The team worked out a number of linebackers on Tuesday, signing Zaviar Gooden to the practice squad. He joins Steve Longa on that unit and one could likely get a promotion to the main roster if the injury issues don’t clear up by the end of the week.

Gooden, a third-round pick in 2013, has some experience. He’s appeared in 24 regular season games, including three starts. He also has familiarity with the system, spending the offseason with the Lions and playing in three of the team’s exhibition games.

“You never know when you’re going to have to step in that role,” Gooden said. I’m preparing like I’m playing, so I’ll be ready. …Obviously that’s a possibility, but it’s a possibility it doesn’t happen.”

Longa is more of a longshot for a promotion, but he’s taking the same approach as Gooden, mentally preparing as if he’ll get the main roster call.

An undrafted prospect out of Rutgers, Longa came to Detroit after spending the offseason with the Seattle Seahawks.

“It was a great learning experience,” Longa said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I got to sit behind one of the best linebackers in the NFL (Bobby Wagner). I got to learn from Pete Carrol. I tried to take some pieces from there and bring it into my game.”

Part of the appeal of coming to Detroit was a connection with some members on the team’s coaching staff. Offensive line coach Ron Prince and special teams assistant Devin Fitzsimmons both spent time at Rutgers during Longa’s stint at the school.

The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Longa is still a raw prospect. He didn’t start playing football until high school and admits that he didn’t really understand defensive schemes or how to watch film until college.

In three seasons at Rutgers he was highly productive, racking up 335 tackles, seven sacks and five forced fumbles.