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Levy’s back, with the confidence of his teammates

Justin Rogers


Dez Bryant throws a touchdown pass to Jason Witten against DeAndre Levy and the Detroit Lions in the third quarter.

Arlington, Texas — His passion for the game was questioned, some wondered if he’d ever play again, but Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy was simply recovering from a knee surgery he and the team declined to reveal.

And although his implementation back into the fold has been painstakingly slow — three weeks of practice before being allowed to work 18 snaps in his first game back — it’s proving worth the wait.

Levy’s playing time expanded to 30 snaps last week and he appeared on pace for a larger role Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys, starting his first game since he’s been back.

And if there was any concerns Levy’s play would have dropped off the cliff after he’d been sidelined much of the past two years with various leg injuries, his teammates and coaches never shared them.

“He’s the Levy that I’m familiar with,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “No matter all the time he’s had off, you can’t make up for the amount of football he’s played. …I wasn’t worried about whether he was going to be the same Levy when he can back. He’s a damn good football player, he’s played a ton of football and he knows the game, he loves the game and he prepares his butt off.”

Levy’s preparation, combined with elite instincts, made him one of the NFL’s best 4-3 linebackers in the seasons before the injuries. He finished second in the NFL with six interceptions in 2013 and second with 151 tackles in 2014.

Those instincts have been apparent since his return. In those first two games, he racked up 12 stops (11 solo). That’s one tackle out of every four snaps he was on the field.

“Yeah, I think we never thought his instincts went anywhere, we just thought he’s been injured,” defensive coordinator Teryl Ausin said. “We knew that once he got over that and once he was getting healthy that he would continue to be the player that he was and he’s still got a ways to go. He’ll tell you that, but he’s working his way back.”

He’s not all the way back yet. He’s not ready to play every snap, like he did the 2013 season or the season opener this year, before his knee and an unrelated thigh injury put him on the shelf. The Lions are being cautious with him. He was on the field most of the opening series against Dallas on Monday, but still rotated out a handful of plays.

“Ideally he’d be 100 percent healthy,” Austin said. “If he’s healthy, he’s our guy. If he’s not healthy, he’s going to continue until he is healthy to get the amount of snaps we think is appropriate.”

Even if Levy doesn’t reach that point this season, the Lions can be optimistic he can return to form in 2017. In small doses the past few weeks, he, along with the return of Josh Bynes, has helped stabilize the linebacking corps. And Levy could be key as the team looks to secure its first division title in 23 years next week against the Packers.

“He’s making the plays he’s supposed to make and he’s flying around,” Whitehead said. “It’s making the defense that much better.”