Lions make linebacker an early priority in free agency

Serving as the linebackers coach in New England for five seasons, and then another seven seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator, new Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia knows how valuable the linebacker position is to the overall success on defense.

“When you walk into a room with Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, Rosevelt Colvin, those are going to be the guys that you’re kind of building around from there,” Patricia told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine last month. 

“So that’s kind of my starting point.”

It certainly has been a key starting point in free agency for the Detroit Lions.

View photos of linebacker Devon Kennard. Photos by Associated Press.

Detroit announced the signing of former Giants linebacker Devon Kennard and former Bears linebacker Christian Jones on Thursday after the official start of free agency. Veteran Nick Bellore, who signed with the Lions last offseason, was re-signed Wednesday. 

A fifth-round pick out of USC in 2014, Kennard has been the Giants' starting strong side linebacker for most of his four-year career. He’s appeared in 52 career games (35 starts), recording 203 tackles (136 solo), 9.5 sacks, eight passes defended and one interception. He also played a key role on special teams.

At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Kennard has some versatility to his game. The Giants would use him as an outside linebacker, blitzer and pass rusher. In college, he played in 51 games with 32 starts at USC – one at rush end, eight at middle linebacker, five at strong side defensive end and 18 at the strong linebacker spot.

“I’m just ready to do whatever coach Patricia wants and needs of me,” Kennard said via conference call Thursday. “I feel like I have a skillset where I can do whatever is needed. We’ll see what he wants to do with me and I’ll be ready to go."

Kennard was used rather steadily as a blitzer and pass rusher in New York, and is also looking forward to doing that in Detroit, if asked to do so.

“I love the opportunity to put pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “I think the greatest play in football is the sack caused fumble, in my opinion. Any opportunities to help my team in that way is something I look forward to doing. We’ll see how much and if at all I’ll be doing that this season.”

Jones signed with Chicago as an undrafted free agent in 2014, and has only missed one game in four seasons with 32 starts.

View photos of linebacker Christian Jones. Photos by Associated Press.

He made 11 starts for the Bears last season, and was also a major contributor on special teams. He ended the year with a career-high 84 total tackles (57 solo) in addition to two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Jones (6-3, 245) also has good size and versatility to his game. He played both outside linebacker and inside in Chicago’s 3-4 scheme.

“It has its advantages being able to do a little bit of everything,” Jones said in a conference call. “I just feel like I’m a player that plays hard in any situation if it being either covering or blitzing or even playing the run. I think I can do all those pretty well. It’s just something where I can do a little bit of everything."

The fact that both Kennard and Jones have versatility to their game no doubt made them attractive to the Lions and Patricia, who has stated on multiple occasions he wants his defense to be multiple.

The signings of Kennard and Jones, along with Bellore, give Detroit’s linebacking corps a few versatile veterans to pair with second-year players Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

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