The versatility of linebacker Danny Lansanah may be tested again Sunday in Carolina.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting middle linebacker Mason Foster (Achilles) was listed as questionable on today’s injury report after missing his fourth overall game of the season last weekend.
Lansanah, who overtook former Buc Jonathan Casillas on the strongside earlier this season, started in place of Foster in Detroit and could be handling the duties again. The past two weeks prior to Detroit, against Chicago and Cincinnati, he played the replacement role again, but those times for weakside linebacker Lavonte David.
Coaches have had nothing but praise for the work Lansanah’s put in this season and his ability to step up and fill holes due to injury. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said this week that the 29-year-old may get the call in the middle again in Carolina but that he still prefers him on the outside.
“He may have to play MIKE again, depending on what Mason’s health situation is, but, ideally, we’d like for him to be an outside ‘backer,” Frazier said Thursday. “But we’ll see what happens. We liked the things that he did outside when we had him outside full-time. It’s just, because of the injuries, he’s had to play MIKE off and on.”
For Lansanah, his focus is on taking advantage of whatever situations and opportunities come his way. After finishing his second straight game as the team’s leading tackler last week, his 66 total takedowns rank him second for the year behind David’s 121.
“I always played Mike before, but then once I got to the NFL I bounced around all the time,” he said earlier this week. “I just like playing the game and wherever they put me I feel like I can play, which is obvious because each position they put me at I’ve played well.
“I think it shows that the coaches have a lot of confidence in me and trust. I appreciate that and in return I’m going to just try and do the best I can and play as well as I can for them.”
Moving around as much as Lansanah has isn’t a simple thing to grasp, let alone execute at a high level, Frazier said.
“It’s extremely hard,” the defensive coordinator said. “On Sunday, he ended up switching positions twice, playing both the MIKE and the WILL in the ball game. And that’s tough, especially your first year in the system. It’s tough enough just to learn one position, much less the MIKE, where you have to get everyone lined up and you have to be aware of the other guys at linebacker and what they’re doing.
“But to his credit, he’s been able to handle it. I’m sure it’s kind of taken away from some things – we were just going through our walk-through and there were some new things for him at a new position. So, it’s challenging, but that’s the plight that we’ve been in because of injuries. He’s done a terrific job of having to learn all three positions and play all three positions for us this season.”
Lansanah isn’t the only linebacker seizing moments that present themselves, either. Backup Orie Lemon has seen his playing time increase each of the past three weeks because of the injuries to David and Foster. His defensive snaps increased from 26 to 33 to 39 over that period. Lemon recorded five of his 11 total tackles last week in Detroit, including one for a loss.
“[Lemon’s] performed well under the circumstances,” head coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s hard. As you look at our defense, you say what players have the most responsibilities – of course, it’s the linebackers. It’s probably that way with all defenses. But it’s the linebackers and the safeties on our defense. He’s done a pretty good job with it for a player that hasn’t really been in our system that long. All our guys that have stepped [up] – whether it’s Danny Lansanah and all those guys that weren’t on that initial depth chart have done a good job.”