Arguably the most wide open competition on the Detroit Lions roster right now is at linebacker.
"It's going to be a bloodbath in there," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Thursday when asked about the position. "There's a ton of experience, there's a ton of youth, there's a ton of energy. They're highly competitive.
"I just think, man, 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, I think we're going to be excited about those guys."
Second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes is trying to be one of those last couple men standing in the linebacker room, vying for a big role in his second season. He had an up and down rookie campaign, playing 448 snaps (39 percent of defensive snaps last year) and finishing with 67 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and two passes defended.
He knows the competition for jobs and roles will be tight in the linebacker room right up until final cut day.
"I can be out of here if I don't put in the right work and don't perform on the field," said Barnes, a fourth-round pick by the Lions last season. "Last year, you're drafted and they get you in and they know you're getting better and you have to elevate your game a little bit throughout the whole season.
"Now, it's just you have to come and perform or you won't be here and that's been my mindset, 'What can I do to get better each and every day? What can I do to show that I'm a new person this year?'"
There are currently 14 players in the linebacker room with a mix of veterans and young players with varying skillsets. It's a group that overall needs to play more consistently for the Lions' defense to improve.
The team added free agents Chris Board and Jarrad Davis, re-signed Alex Anzalone, Josh Woods and Anthony Pittman, and drafted Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston. The team also moved Julian Okwara to an off-the ball hybrid linebacker role, and have Shaun Dion Hamilton back after he had a good training camp before being lost to a season-ending injury last year. There's a lot of competition.
The biggest jump a player usually takes is between Year 1 and 2, and the Lions are hoping that's the case the Barnes, who said his big focus this offseason was improving his technique and eyes. Teams completed 86.4 percent (19-of-22) of passes for two touchdowns and a 149.1 passer rating in Barnes' coverage area last season, according to Pro Football Reference. He knows that's an area he needs to improve this year.
Barnes said he also wants to take the next step in being more of a vocal leader. He's more confident heading into his second season being able to take things from the film room and apply it on the field.
View photos from Day 3 of Detroit Lions OTA practices on Thursday, May 26, 2022 in Allen Park, Mich.
The Lions are also going to be a more attacking defense in the front seven this year, and Barnes thinks that really suits his game.
"It just allows us to play free as linebackers," he said. "It allows us to play downhill and not really think about it. Helps us play aggressive on the run. It's just an aggressive defense, we are letting the linemen go and the linebackers go."
Barnes likes the new defensive approach, and the competition in the room. He's excited to continue to show the improvements he's made in his game and hopes it leads to a bigger role in this defense.