Lions’ Whitehead appears ticketed for weak-side LB role

Justin Rogers, The Detroit News

Allen Park — Following the addition of Jarrad Davis in the first round of the NFL draft, Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead is moving from middle linebacker to one of the outside spots.

But, which one? Whitehead, the team’s leading tackler last season, played more of a strong-side role in college and broke into the Lions’ starting lineup at that spot in 2014 following an impressive training camp and preseason performance. In recent years, he’s played primarily in the middle, but has also gotten work on the weak side while DeAndre Levy battled injuries in 2015.

In the modern NFL, especially in Detroit’s scheme, the strong-side role is minimalized, trumped by the need for a nickel cornerback on the field approximately 70 percent of the snaps.

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So, in answering where Whitehead fits best going forward, the answer boils down to whether the Lions want him on the field nearly every down or only a small percentage of plays.

Coach Jim Caldwell made it clear when he was asked before Wednesday’s OTA practice.

“SAM’s are rarely, rarely on the field an inordinate amount of time, so he’s one of those guys that can play those two inside positions very, very well,” Caldwell said. “He runs well and obviously, he’s played (middle and weak side) both before. … but he’ll play WILL for us and he also obviously still has the ability to play any other spot.”

Whitehead was a no-show Wednesday, excused to attend to a personal matter. And he sat out last Wednesday with an injury. But when he returns, it appears he’s penciled in for the starting weak-side job next to Davis.

Whitehead enters this season in the final year of a two-year extension he signed with the team in 2016. The Lions drafted Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a natural fit on the weak side and potential long-term replacement, in the fourth round.