Linebacker Jarrad Davis was one of the players on defense last year head coach Matt Patricia leaned on as he worked to implement his overall direction for the franchise and install a brand new defensive scheme.
Devon Kennard, Quandre Diggs, and later in the season Damon Harrison Sr., were also instrumental in that process, but as the MIKE linebacker and defensive signal caller, Patricia and Davis worked closely together.
A former linebackers coach in New England before later taking over as defensive coordinator for the Patriots, Patricia has talked on numerous occasions about his affinity for the linebacker position and its importance to the overall success of a defense. In Davis, Patricia has a natural leader and ascending player, one who's been asked to do a lot as a young player. Patricia appreciates the way Davis has responded to that.
"He's been in a situation even before I got here where he's one of our better players and he's out there in front, and it's hard because there hasn't been that consistent, dynamic guy next to him that maybe has 10 years experience or 12 years experience that he can go have that conversation with," Patricia said. "That's just a little bit different. There should always be a, call it lineage transfer from positions, especially at the linebacker position.
"Quarterback's another one that's a critically important position to be able to help younger guys that come into that position with a guy that's been in the league, because there's so much intricacy and detail that goes into those positions.
"I had those situations before where I brought in a young linebacker but he sat next to guys that had been in the league, All-Pros, Super Bowl champion guys that had been in the league 10, 12 years. The knowledge that you get instantly, within a year or two of sitting next to those guys, it's so valuable and that's something that JD hasn't really had."
Veteran Tahir Whitehead took Davis under his wing as a rookie after he was moved over to outside linebacker to accommodate Davis playing the MIKE as a rookie. Whitehead was a six-year vet at the time and good player, but not the 10 or 12-year vet with the kind of experience Patricia was used to working with at the linebacker spot in New England and saw his young linebackers benefit from.
Davis struggled through some inconsistencies as a rookie, and it took some adjusting to a new scheme early last season, but overall, he was much improved last season, especially the second half of the year.
Davis was one of two players in the league last season to produce 100-plus tackles and 6.0-plus sacks. He is the only player in Lions history to accomplish that.
The improvement from year one to year two was tangible for Davis, and that should have Patricia excited about what Davis' third season could bring, now being a year into the scheme, and having a nice collection of veteran leaders alongside him.
"We gotta just keep giving to him as much as possible, and that's what keeps me up at night," Patricia said of Davis. "Those are the things that I want to make sure I can do to help him be a better player, be a better person, be a better leader, all of it.
"So, guys like Kennard help the room a lot. Diggs. We got guys like that. Trey Flowers will help a lot. Snacks (Harrison) is great, his instincts, and you can learn from all those guys, and that's what's so important."