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O'HARA: Davis embracing his role as leader on Lions' new defense

Jarrad Davis has been on the move this offseason.

It's almost been a full sprint from what he accomplished as the Detroit Lions' rookie middle linebacker a year ago to do whatever he can to be better this year.

Directly in front of him is training camp starting Friday, with the first practice in pads shortly after that. Being able to make contact can't come soon enough.

"I'm itching ... I'm itching," he said when he spoke to the media on Thursday. "It's getting closer every day.

"It'll be here before you know it."

Or feeling it, probably.

View photos of Detroit Lions players arriving for 2018 training camp presented by Rocket Mortgage.

Davis was barely a month removed from the last game of last season when the Lions hired Matt Patricia as head coach.

Davis didn't wait to see what Patricia had in store for him in the defense that Patricia would bring with him from the New England Patriots, where he'd been an assistant coach for 14 years and defensive coordinator the last seven.

Linebackers coach Al Golden talked Thursday about how Davis was at the team's headquarters to meet the new coach soon after Patricia's introductory press conference on Feb. 5.

"He just wanted to know right away what he wanted to fix," Golden said. "Some guys don't want to hear that. Some guys let their ego get in the way. He embraced it and took ownership."

The Patriots run a multiple scheme that has been called "a thinking man's defense."

It's an adjustment from what the Lions had run under the previous staff. Davis is being counted on to be a leader, and he wanted to learn every nuance he could. If he's going to be a leader, it starts with leading himself.

"If you want to be a leader, you've got to devote yourself to that focus completely," Davis said. "There can't be any loopholes. There can't be any areas where you relax."

In the mental battles between units, teams will exploit the tiniest weaknesses. They become game-deciding cracks.

"They're going to find weaknesses," Davis said. "That guy across from me, he's supposed to be the best player on that team. If I see a weakness, I'm going to attack him.

"I've got to make sure I hold myself to a different standard."

David showed enough promise in his rookie season to validate the team's decision to draft him 21st overall in the first round out of Florida.

He was installed immediately as the starting middle linebacker, with the responsibility of calling the defenses. That's one of the responsibilities that goes with his position.

It was a heavy load for Davis, and he had some struggles in the passing game after a strong start. However, he finished up well, ending his season with 12 tackles and an interception in a final-game win over the Green Bay Packers.

Davis is the only full-time starter back from last season's linebacking corps. Two veterans were added early in free agency – Devon Kennard, a likely full-time starter along with Davis, and Christian Jones of the Bears.

"Everything starts with JD," Golden said. "He sets the tempo. "

The defense the Lions will run this season has never been precisely defined. Suffice to say, the word "multiple" fits until we see more.

"This is not a rigid system," said Golden. "This is a fluid system – the multiplicity of fronts and coverage.

"It's basically an 'adapt-or-die' system."

Davis has shown with his work ethic that he wants to do more than just adapt. He's the leader again, with a valuable year of experience and fueled by a full tank of desire.

"I love this game, man," he said. "I love it. No matter who I play for, it's me doing it for me. I give everything I have. The way we operate, the way we carry ourselves, I want to make sure I give every little bit of effort I have.

"Who would I be to come in here and say, 'I'm not doing it today?' They (teammates and coaches) come in every day to make sure they get it done.

"I have to do the same thing."

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