After speaking at The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) panel at the Super Bowl, both Boldin and Quin were asked about this current Lions roster, and which young players they think are primed for big jumps in 2017.
“I really do think Miles is going to be a good player for us,” Quin said. “I also think Antwione, the linebacker, is going to be a really good player for us as well. Antwione, hopefully, takes big steps.”
Killebrew, who was drafted in the fourth round out of Southern Utah, became a key part of some sub packages on defense for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin as the season progressed, especially on third down. Killebrew (6-2, 222) has terrific size and speed, and finished with 28 tackles and an interception playing in a little more than 15 percent of the snaps on defense.
Killebrew was also a key contributor on special teams, as was Williams.
Williams, who was taken in the fifth round out of Georgia Southern, played in 14 games with three starts and recorded 27 tackles and recovered a fumble on 204 snaps on defense.
“In your rookie year, it’s a whirlwind,” Quin said. “You’re coming in you’re making all this money. You have to understand how to use your time. You don’t have class anymore. Now you’re just football. 'How do I deal with off-the-field stuff? Okay, I have to learn special teams and defense. I’m playing safety and dime and all these places.'
“Sometimes it takes you a little bit of time, but if you can throw that all on a person and they can handle it and make plays. Once they have the time to digest it in the offseason, then he comes back next year, he’s going to be so much farther ahead. And he’s going to have so much experience.”
Quin said one of the things that helped him the most early in his career was the fact that he played cornerback, nickel, safety and dime as a rookie.
“So, when you sit back and put yourself in all those situations, you can say, okay, I know what it’s like to be here. I know what I have to do. I know what this guy is expecting,” Quin said.
“Once you do that stuff, if you really work on your craft, you have no choice but to take off.”
Offensively, Boldin was asked the same question and was quick to point out second-year running back
“I think Zenner is one of those guys,” Boldin said. “I think you guys saw at the end of the year what he was able to do.”
Zenner started four games late in the year, and led the Lions with four rushing touchdowns on the season.
“I think he’s a guy that will definitely make that next step next year,” Boldin said. “For me, it’s just seeing his growth. Whenever you have a young guy like that who is able to play every down, that’s big. He’s a guy that can run the ball effectively, catch out of the backfield and pick up blitzes.
“I saw him personally mature over the year. He grabbed the coaches confidence, they weren’t shy about putting him in there, and when they did put him in there, he responded well.”
Players usually make their largest leap in development from year one to year two, which is good news for Killebrew and Williams, who both gained quality experience as rookies.
Zenner will be entering his third season, but the way he finished 2016 is a good sign he can be a reliable piece to Detroit’s backfield in 2017.