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O'HARA: Barrett validating Lions' interest in him

Alex Barrett didn't have to wait long after this year's draft to get a phone call from the Detroit Lions that proved that the interest they had shown in him in the evaluation process was genuine.

They offered to sign him as an undrafted free agent, and Barrett accepted.

Barrett put aside any disappointment over not being one of the 40-plus defensive linemen taken among the 253 players drafted overall. His focus shifted to taking advantage of the opportunity to start a career in Detroit.

"When I heard from them, I just wanted to get to work," Barrett said this week.

That was the same work ethic he had shown in four years at San Diego State as a versatile, productive, consistent defensive lineman. Barrett played the interior on the Aztecs' three-man line before shifting to a pass-rushing right end his last two seasons.

Barrett put up solid numbers and improved steadily. He had 13 tackles for loss in each of the last two seasons. As a fifth-year senior in 2016 he had 15 quarterback hits and 7.5 sacks, an improvement over seven hits and 5.5 sacks in 2015.

Barrett had a promising start in the Lions' victory over the Colts in the preseason opener. Barrett was credited with playing a team-high 40 snaps and producing six total tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits.

The enthusiasm Barrett expressed over playing in his first NFL game was genuine.

"You make plays -- it really feels good," he said. "It keeps you going. My first NFL game, it was a great experience. It was fun. It started early in the week, practicing with them (the Colts) for two days.

"It felt like we had three game days."

Overall, the game was a good start for the Lions' rookie defensive linemen. Jeremiah Valoaga, also an undrafted free agent, had a sack and a pass breakup to go with a team-high six solo tackles. Seventh-round pick Pat O'Connor had a sack, and sixth-round pick Jeremiah Ledbetter had one quarterback hit.

There is a long way to go – with three preseason games still on the schedule and personnel decisions to make to get the roster to the regular-season limit of 53 active players --  before making any final judgments on where the rookies stand.

But as the Lions look to add production and build depth on a defensive line that already has been hit hard by injuries, it's never a bad thing to have players who get to the quarterback.

The Lions showed interest in Barrett in the pre-draft evaluation process, and it continued right to the draft.

Barrett met with defensive coordinator Teryl Austin the night before his Pro Day workout in March.

"We got on the board and did a little work," Barrett said. "On my Pro Day, he was there."

And head coach Jim Caldwell called Barrett a couple days before the draft to confirm the Lions' interest.

"It was just to let me know they really liked me," Barrett said.

At 6-3 and 250 pounds, Barrett is the shortest and lightest of the seven defensive ends on the current roster. Obviously, there are some physical dimensions required to play every position in the NFL, but what Barrett has shown so far – including in the first preseason game – validates what attracted the Lions to him in the first place.

"You see a skill set," Caldwell said this week. "That was one of the reasons Teryl had actually gone out to see him. Obviously our scouts had seen him earlier, and he had just a number of the traits that we were looking for.

"He's very, very active. He's got power, he's got speed – he's got a variety of moves, and he's one of those guys you knew was going to help you.

"We tried to do as good a job as we possibly could making certain he knew we were interested (before the draft), and we were fortunate to get him."

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