Lions’ Jack Campbell getting ‘better and better’ as training camp rolls on

Detroit News

Allen Park — Each of the three linebackers vying for a starting job next to Alex Anzalone continued to trend upward in Friday night’s preseason game against the New York Giants, but Detroit Lions rookie Jack Campbell may have had the best preseason debut of any defensive rookie in the league.

That’s where things sit heading into Week 2 of preseason, and a pair of joint practices against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I thought he was physical. I thought he saw it. There’s things, as he goes, just (needs to cut) it loose,” head coach Dan Campbell said. “Like, he sees it, now pull the trigger just a little bit faster. He’s a smart player and every time that he goes against that environment, he’ll just be better and better, but his physicality certainly showed up.”

Jack Campbell played 25 defensive snaps in his preseason debut, making four tackles and recording a pass defense in a 21-16 win over New York at Ford Field.

Over three straight plays to begin the second quarter, Campbell helped take down Giants running back James Robinson for a total of five yards gained, then locked down Giants running back Eric Gray on a third-down route out of the backfield to get a driving Giants offense to fourth-and-5. Later in the drive — Detroit’s Romeo Okwara gave up the first down by getting flagged for offsides — he helped wrap up Robinson on third-and-2 to set up a turnover-on-downs one play later, where he was also in on a tackle for no gain with two other players.

“I feel like … I was playing pretty aggressive in the run game, so just kind of being patient in that aspect, but also, just cleaning up some communication stuff, cleaning up some technique stuff,” Jack Campbell said. “That’s something I’m always gonna work on, especially for me, my pad level. But also just stepping out there as a rookie, just having confidence in yourself, play in and play out, that’s what I’m kind of focused on right now.”

Jack Campbell noted the speed of the game but said he’s working to ensure it slows down by the start of the regular season.

“Once I can get (the system) bolted down, I feel like once I can be able to see full formations, tendencies, everything will happen a lot quicker,” the linebacker said. “I mean, it’s professional football, so there’s a quicker step than college football, but at the end of the day, I feel like some people try to make it harder than it is, and you just gotta get the ball down. That’s what every defensive coach I’ve talked to said — it’s just play fast, get the ball down.”

Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez weren’t slouches, either. They both saw less time on the defense — Rodriguez played 18 snaps and had a tackle for loss and Barnes played 15 — and saw three special-teams plays apiece. Anthony Pittman (24 defensive snaps, plus seven on special teams) and Jalen Reeves-Maybin (21, seven), with each of those players making four tackles, including one tackle for loss (on the fourth-down stop) by Reeves-Maybin.

Dan Campbell said the situation may evolve into one where he’s having to make a concerted effort to find some of the linebackers playing time.

“I think that’s always an option. I think that’s a good problem to have, when you have a room full of guys you believe can play at the position and — whether it’s by personnel group or it’s special teams … I think that to have the depth and the trust in all those guys (is huge),” he said.

“Barnes showed up again. Rodriguez showed up. Campbell’s coming. We know what Alex is — and look, (Reeves-Maybin) just goes in there and makes plays. That’s what he does. We’ve got a room full of guys we got a lot of trust in and they’re making each other better.”

As far as his “Welcome to the NFL” moment, Jack Campbell said it didn’t happen in the preseason opener. It actually happened at practice weeks ago. Jared Goff zipped a pass right by his head to Tom Kennedy, beating Campbell in a passing window that would have never been hit at the college level.

“That’ll be a challenge, but that’s something I really look forward to,” he said.

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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