Lions lose Longa, a setback for team’s shaky LB group

Longa out with season-ending surgery

Detroit Lions linebacker Steve Longa holds his leg after being injured during an Aug. 17 game against the New York Giants in Detroit. Longa's knee injury represents a setback for a position group that already is potentially a problem area on Matt Patricia's defense. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Detroit Lions linebacker Steve Longa’s season-ending knee injury represents a setback for a position group that already is a potential problem area.

Detroit used a first-round pick on Jarrad Davis last season and he appears to be a liability in pass coverage.

The Lions signed veteran free agents Christian Jones and Devon Kennard on the same day in March, hoping they can be 16-game starters for the first time in their careers.

Davis, though, is the key because general manager Bob Quinn took him 21st overall in 2017 to play middle linebacker.

The former Florida star is strong against the run. Davis had 96 tackles last season, the most by an NFL rookie or first-year player. But against the pass, he struggled last season and has seemed to again during training camp and in the preseason.

The latest example came Friday night when the New York Giants capped a 17-play, 79-yard, nine-minute drive with a touchdown pass that exposed Davis’ weakness.

Davis Webb threw an 8-yard pass to running back Wayne Gallman, who easily got separation from Davis on a simple pass route in which he ran to the left and cut back over the middle. By the time Gallman caught the ball, Davis was about 3 yards behind him.

“You’re just going to refer to one play in the game, but there’s definitely some things there that we can coach better,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “And, I can coach better to help him.”

The Lions added Jones and Kennard, banking on them being an upgrade from Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow.

Oakland signed Whitehead a three-year, $18 million contract — much more than Detroit would’ve offered. Worrilow signed with Philadelphia and had a season-ending knee injury during offseason workouts.

The 6-foot-4, 256-pound Kennard was a starter 11 times last season for the New York Giants, who used him as a starting linebacker in 35 games over four seasons. He had four sacks last season and has had 9 1/2 sacks over his career.

The 6-3, 244-pound Jones started 11 games last season and 31 times over four years for the Chicago Bears. He had a career-high 11 sacks last season and has had 15 over his career.

Both players are fits as standup linebackers or edge rushers in Patricia’s defense.

“Kennard does a great job for us, doing whatever we ask him — coming off the edge, dropping in coverage,” Detroit safety Glover Quin said. “Christian is big, physical, athletic guy who can run downhill.

“Having that type of size and speed is going to help us throughout the year be able to do different things and be able match up and hopefully create some problems for the offense.”

NOTES: DE Cornelius Washington and CB Antwuan Davis were released and CB Dexter McDougle, CB Sterling Moore and OL Beau Nunn were signed.

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