The job of a football coach is to put players in the best possible situations to succeed.
Detroit Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard has tried to do just that with second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes over the course of this season.
"What I had to do as a coach is kind of sit back and see, 'Where can I help this kid?' To me, it was taking things off his plate and dialing down things in the game plan where he was going in on Sunday with specific roles, specific jobs, so he knew exactly what his job entailed," Sheppard told the media a couple weeks back of his approach with Barnes this season.
"Because Derrick Barnes has all the tools and all traits you want at the linebacker position."
The maximum snaps Barnes had played on defense the first seven games of the season was 23 back in Week 4.
In an effort to slow the game down for Barnes and keep his development on a steady track, Sheppard has focused on the mental aspect of the game.
"I'm very pleased with where he is," Sheppard said. "In my opinion, Derrick Barnes, what people need to understand about this player, I know everyone is looking at him as a second-year guy, but he's in his second year with different coaches in two years asking him to do two different things. Asking him for two different styles of play. So, Derrick is a very developmental linebacker in my eyes."
But sometimes the plan goes out the window on any given Sunday because of injury, and that was the case this past Sunday with Barnes and his defensive snap count.
Because of a right arm injury suffered by rookie starter Malcolm Rodriguez against the Packers that limited him to just 19 snaps in the game, Barnes was pressed into a bigger role than he's played all year.
Barnes played 50 snaps on defense and registered a career-high 12 tackles (four solo), one tackle for loss, one pass defended and 1.0 sack. Pro Football Focus ranked Barnes as the fourth highest graded defender on the team among those with enough snaps to qualify. He had a clutch stop on a third-and-goal play and was in the right spot to get in the way of an Aaron Rodgers pass that bounced off him and into the arms of rookie safety Kerby Joseph for the game's first takeaway.
Barnes is the first Lions linebacker since Julian Peterson in 2010 to produce a game with at least 10 tackles, one pass defense and 1.0 sack.
View photos from the Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions Week 9 game at Ford Field on Sunday, Nov. 6 in Detroit, MI.
"It feels better when you have a performance like that and also win, and I was telling myself no matter what happens I want to win a game because if we had that type of performance and you lose none of that matters," Barnes said after the game.
Sheppard has continued to develop Barnes by putting him in a position where he's asked to play to his strengths. As a result, the game has slowed down for him. And when the time came for the Lions to lean on their second-year linebacker to play a bigger role, he stepped up and showed why Sheppard and the Lions continue to feel like Barnes is on an upward trajectory in his development.