Emerging from the tunnel in the Lions’ traditional silver and Honolulu blue, linebacker Alex Anzalone’s golden locks echo the thunderous arrival of Thor, the mythical god of thunder. Anzalone, with his unyielding spirit, has transitioned from a hopeful professional to a linchpin in the Lions’ defense, embodying the team’s commitment to developing homegrown talent.
After a challenging start to the 2022 season, Anzalone’s persistence paved the way for a string of strong performances that culminated in a rewarding three-year contract extension in the offseason. This fidelity, as defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn highlights, is a testament to the team’s personnel department’s knack for identifying players who fit the Lions’ defensive scheme. “We have smart, tough, instinctive players on defense,” he noted. The veteran linebacker certainly fits that mold.
Anzalone’s contributions to the Lions extend far beyond his impressive stats, including a career-high 125 tackles in the previous season. His ability to understand and perform according to the team’s defensive needs is key to his and the team’s success.
Nurturing the Future
A core part of Anzalone’s role in the Lions’ defense is his mentorship of upcoming talents like Malcolm Rodriguez, Derrick Barnes, and the newly drafted Jack Campbell. His insights into the shifting dynamics of the NFL, along with his adaptability, make him an ideal guide for these young linebackers.
Anzalone sees a change in the readiness of new recruits compared to five or six years ago, as he noted in an OTA practice. He shared, “It’s a new day and age. But guys are coming in…a lot more ready for scheme and what we’re doing at this level, as opposed to the college level.”
He further elaborates on the pressure that comes with being a high-profile draft pick, stressing the need for individual player development, especially for Jack Campbell.
The first thing I’d say is that I know there’s gonna be a lot of expectations as far as being the 18th overall pick. But I feel like he (Jack Campbell) has to develop as a player and as far as fans and media and everything like that. You gotta let him develop as an NFL player. Everyone’s transition is different.
His commitment to making sure his teammates are in the right position, as Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard mentions, is a testament to this dedication. Sheppard noted, via Kyle Meinke of MLive:
He’s getting everybody lined up, making sure guys are in the right position, making checks, going out of his way to make sure his teammates are in the right position on certain plays and checks we’ve had… And doing things he really doesn’t have to do, and he’s been doing this since day one. He was doing it last year, but this year, we’ve just gone to another level with that player.
Balancing his responsibilities as a mentor and a player, Anzalone continues to strive for personal excellence. In a league increasingly favoring passing offenses, Anzalone is expected to fortify his already strong pass coverage skills, evolving alongside the game. The Lions anticipate his steady presence on the defense, leveraging his adaptability to align with changing strategies and trends.
Bracing for an Exciting Era
Hoping to claim the NFC North title for the first time since 1993, the Lions, with the leadership of Anzalone, are garnering increased favor as the frontrunner this offseason.
Preparing for the upcoming season, Anzalone exhibits a potent confidence in the Lions’ chances, even as the NFC North landscape is being reshaped by the departure of longtime Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets. Anzalone asserts, “With or without him, we are on the rise and I think that we’re going to be for years to come,” (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press).
Anzalone’s excitement extends beyond the Lions’ on-field strategies. He revels in the progression of the team’s young talent and the filling of key positions through free agency and the draft. His observation that “It’s fun to see it happening and see it happening in real time,” attests to the dynamic growth within the team, setting the stage for what he anticipates to be “a fun year going forward.”
In the face of these shifting dynamics, Anzalone continues to anchor the Lions’ defense. His guidance to the team’s emerging stars is as essential as his on-field exploits. Often compared to Thor, the god of thunder, Anzalone is leading the Lions into an electrifying new phase of their football journey.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Lon Horwedel – USA TODAY Sports