As the Detroit Lions began their Organized Team Activities this week, the spirit seemed different, at least according to head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
Why? Both cited the new sense of “competition” within the team’s Allen Park headquarters Thursday.
“I will tell you this, you talk about competition in the room, just take a look at that (linebacker) room,” Glenn said. “That’s the one thing that everybody keeps talking about, saying, ‘We should draft a linebacker.’ Well, we got some pretty damn good ones.”
One of the first names Glenn mentioned was Chris Board, who spent the past four years in Baltimore before signing with Detroit this offseason. He took first-team reps frequently Thursday.
Glenn also Alex Anzalone looks the best he has since his rookie year of 2017. Jarrad Davis, the Lions’ 2017 first-rounder who disappointed in his first stint in Detroit, is back after a season with the New York Jets; Glenn said Davis has been “motivated” as a leader of the unit.
And then there are the the Lions’ two sixth-round draft picks: Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez, who Glenn called “a sleeper” and Jackson State’s James Houston, who led all Football Championship Subdivision players with seven forced fumbles, tied for second with 16½ sacks and had 24½ tackles for loss last season as an edge rusher.
“There is competition in the room, and again I will say this, anytime there is hard decisions about playersm it tells you the talent is improving on your team,” Glenn said. “That’s what every coach wants.”
Derrick Barnes is another player to watch. A fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft out of Purdue, Barnes went from five snaps combined in the first two games of 2021 to a starter midway through the season, though he struggled at the end of the season.
On Thursday, Barnes said everything has slowed down, thanks to Davis taking on a role as his mentor and teaching him about the position.
But what he said he likes most is the, yes, competition. Barnes said the individual players’ desire for playing time hasn’t prevented them from helping each other.
“(The depth) puts pressure on you, and you have to put pressure on yourself,” he said. “If you want to go win the starting job, you have to do everything in your power to do that. All these guys, we all have the same mindset, we want to be the guy, we want to be the green dot (calling defensive plays), we want to start. … So everybody is bringing their ‘A’ game every day, and everybody’s learning.
“But the thing is, we’re learning from each other, it’s not like we keep to ourselves. … We’re all going to help each other at the end of the day, and that’s what helps it become fun.”
Campbell said as much when he spoke to the media Thursday. He laughed a few times when asked to assess the team’s overall state, saying the Lions have yet to put on pads.
But he said the change in linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard’s room has been significant.
That’s a reason for optimism by Lions fans, Campbell said.
“Out of all those guys we have in that room, it’s going to be a bloodbath in there,” he said. “There’s a ton of experience, there’s a ton of youth, there’s a ton of energy and on top of that everyone of those guys in there is competitive.
“I just think when we come out with the finished product and the two or three that are left standing — there will be more than that — but my point is, we’re going to be excited about those guys.”
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