Levy having strong season for Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The beard started, DeAndre Levy said, around a year ago for no particular reason.

And it is just purely a coincidence that Levy is having the best season of his career with his bushy facial hair. There is not a Samson complex going on here, just a linebacker for the Detroit Lions playing with consistency and confidence in his fifth season in the league.

It is something, like the beard, that started last season. But Levy said injuries limited his opportunities then -- something that has not happened this season.

"There's been ups and downs. I think the big thing for me is being consistent," Levy said. "Opportunities last year were a little bit, the hamstring kind of slowed me a little bit. So I kind of feel like I came together a little bit last year but having more opportunities this year, been healthy."

They have come in bunches for the Wisconsin native. Levy is on pace for his best statistical season, having 95 tackles through the first 12 games. And the numbers have been consistent. He has had no fewer than five tackles in any game and hit double digits twice.

But his importance and improvement goes beyond the tackle numbers, which should be in triple digits for a linebacker who plays almost every snap. It has come in his ability to read plays. He has done an exceptional job this season snuffing out opposing screens and has been good against the run for the most part.

His biggest leap might have come in pass coverage. He has six interceptions this season -- one more than he had the previous four years of his career combined -- and four pass breakups.

Those six interceptions lead the NFL -- not just among linebackers, but among all defensive players.

"He's been the same player," linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "I just think as a player you grow every year and that's part of his growth. Right now, he's turned that corner in becoming consistent and coming into a guy that makes plays when they are coming his way and takes advantage of his opportunity."

This was something he and Tulloch, who is also having a good season as Detroit's middle linebacker, have discussed before. Not just knowing where they need to be on plays and being in position, but being able to adjust in the midst of a play to actually make the play.

Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said part of it is the way Levy now reads offenses and what he is recognizing as opposed to earlier in his career.

"He understands the game better, there's no question about that," Cunningham said earlier this season. "You could see it at OTAs and other times throughout the year that he was on point and it's paying off."

It's paying off for everyone involved. Levy is having the best season of his career. The Lions have a stalwart at linebacker now who gives both the defensive line and secondary added comfort that either a guy in front of them or behind them could make the play, depending on the scenario.

And then there's this: The way Levy is playing, it would be surprising if he didn't get a trip to Hawaii, meaning the Pro Bowl, after the season.

"That'd be cool. It'd be nice," Levy said. "I mean, it's kind of hard to think about right now because it's a big stretch for us as a team right now.

"That's kind of priority number one."

Part of the way Levy has played this season has been more free. He is more instinctual. He has let himself be more open, more free flowing.

Kind of like that ever-growing beard he said he doesn't maintain. He has trimmed the thing only a couple of times, and mostly that was so it could grow even longer once split ends stopped natural hair growth.

Levy appears to have pride in the beard, too. When he talked about it last month, one in which men often grow out their mustaches in support of fighting prostate cancer, Levy dismissed the thought of Movember for himself.

"There's no such thing as Movember," he said. "It's no shave ever."

Whatever has been working for Levy, all the Lions want is for it to continue.