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2020 training camp preview: Linebacker

On the roster: Jamie Collins Sr., Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai, Christian Jones, Reggie Ragland, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Anthony Pittman, Jason Cabinda, Elijah Lee, Christian Sam

Key losses: None

Table inside Article
Jamie Collins Sr.^1681107.013
Jarrad Davis116342.030
Jahlani Tavai155852.011
Christian Jones135122.000
Reggie Ragland^143042.000
Jalen Reeves-Maybin163710.010
Anthony Pittman1000.000
Jason Cabinda4200.000
Elijah Lee^8710.000
Christian Sam^0000.000

^with another team

Best competition: How will reps be distributed in a crowded position group?

Collins is the wild card in this scenario for me. He's so versatile and skilled that the Lions can use him in a lot of different ways. The Patriots rushed him a lot off the edge last season. Head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Cory Undlin could decide to do that often from the JACK linebacker role on the line of scrimmage. Collins is also very skilled off the ball in the middle. The Lions could utilize his cover skills from the MIKE or WILL roles. Collins was the best cover linebacker in the NFL last season based off passer rating against. That could dip into the reps for Davis or Jones.

The Lions are also going to have to find more reps for Tavai, who earned an early role as a rookie second-round pick last season. He's now entering year two, and that's typically when we see a pretty good jump in young players in terms of their physical and mental development. Does Tavai play more at the MIKE, or kick outside into the WILL? Where does that leave the veteran Jones? Like Collins, Tavai can play a number of different roles because of his size and skillset.

The Lions declined the fifth-year option for Davis, but Patricia was adamant this offseason that he's still a key part of their defense. Davis will continue to work to be more consistent as a cover man in space.

Ragland is a veteran who's had some success the last few seasons and will look for a role in Detroit.

Twentyman's take: Maybe we're thinking about this all wrong when we talk about the MIKE, WILL, JACK and other linebacker positions. There's some versatile players in this linebacker group, and I keep thinking back to a conversation Mike O'Hara and I had with Patricia at the end of the virtual offseason training program when he said the plan is to build the defense around the best players on that side of the ball, however that might look.

Patricia isn't looking for the best three or four linebackers, he's looking for the best 11 players, and when he identifies them, he plans to tailor a defensive scheme around them. It's why he often talks about the importance of being multiple on that side of the ball so often.

Detroit has more depth at the position now with the additions of Collins and Ragland, which puts into question where Killebrew and Reeves-Maybin fit into the mix. Killebrew is still listed as a safety on the Lions roster, but he's spent a lot of time working with the linebackers. Killebrew and Reeves-Maybin are two of the best special teams players in the league, and seeing how Patricia values that area of the game, it seems likely at least one makes the roster. Maybe they find a way to keep both, even though neither of them play a ton on defense.

By the numbers:

2: Lions' opponents had 184 drives in 2019. On those drives, Detroit's defense only allowed two quick-strike scoring drives, which is a drive that is four-plays-or-fewer. The Lions' average of 3.7 percent of drives faced resulting in a quick-strike score also ranked as the third best in the NFL.

3: Forced fumbles for Davis last season, which tied with cornerback Justin Coleman for the team lead.

22: Negative plays forced by the Lions' defense last season (not including sacks), which were the fewest in the league last year.

50.4: Passer rating for opposing quarterbacks when throwing at Collins last season, which was the lowest among all NFL linebackers last season and the lowest PR allowed by a linebacker since 2011.

58: Tackles for Tavai in 2019, which ranked in the top 10 among rookie linebackers.

Quotable: "It's always one or two plays that's the difference in the game and I just feel like me being a veteran now, I can bring some veteran, some professional little things to get us over the top, and I'm definitely up for the challenge," Collins said this offseason.

"We definitely going to start winning. Right now."

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