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O'HARA: Harold working to fit wherever Lions need him

Eli Harold is working to fit wherever the Detroit Lions need him as a new member of the defense's front seven.

He expects to play strong-side linebacker and left defensive end. That was his primary role for three years with the San Francisco 49ers, the team that traded him to the Lions last week in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick.

"Right now, it's still up in the air," Harold said Tuesday. "I'm learning the basic nuances of the defense."

What isn't up in the air is how he feels about facing the Lions' opponent in Week 2 of the regular season. It's a road game against the 49ers on Sept 16.

Harold admits he was hurt by a trade that he never saw coming.

"It's marked," Harold said of the game. "It's definitely marked."

Harold did not sound angry as he spoke. If fact, he was upbeat as he talked to the media. It was more of a player wanting to show that his old team made a mistake by trading him.

Harold's first inkling of the trade came in a text message with a Colorado area code that he did not recognize. It was sent by 49ers general manager John Lynch, who apparently retained a Colorado number from his days as a player with the Broncos.

Harold was surprised when he got the news, but there was a bright side to it.

"He basically told me they were moving on, going in another direction," Harold said. "Luckily, it was a trade and not a cut. I'm just excited to be here, and somebody wanted me enough to trade for me.

"It's tough. Luckily, it's still the preseason. You've got time to learn the playbook. I'm here with a bunch of veterans.

"I have to learn the scheme. Whatever they want me to do – all hands on deck."

Harold was used to change in San Francisco. In his first three seasons after being drafted in the third round out of Virginia he had three different head coaches, defensive coordinators and position coaches. The trade to the Lions makes it No. 4 in all three categories.

Happenings in his personal life also made the timing of the trade difficult. Harold and his wife, Kelsey, are expecting their first child in October.

Regardless of the revolving cast of coaches and systems he dealt with in his first three seasons with the 49ers, Harold kept himself available to play. He played all 48 games, with 25 starts – 24 of them in the last two seasons.

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Aug. 28, 2018.

He played 337 defensive snaps as a rookie in 2015, a personal high of 690 in 2016 and 452 in 2017.

Harold was regarded as a strong run defender, but he did not produce as a pass rusher to the level many projected he would coming out of college. He had only five sacks in the three seasons.

The Lions had an opening at linebacker because of the season-ending knee injury sustained by Steve Longa in the second preseason game against the Giants. The Lions are looking for someone to set the edge against the run. That's been one of Harold's strengths.

While Harold's experience in different schemes and ability to adjust were factors in evaluating him, his skillset was more important in deciding to make the deals.

"It's really looking at the basic fundamentals of it," said head coach Matt Patricia. "This is a guy who's got great leverage. He's really long, does a good job with his punch and strike, and you can really see him kind of use that leverage to his ability, especially out on the edge.

"But you really look at what are the traits that he has, as opposed to how many schemes he has been asked to learn. I think that's always a little bit tough to evaluate, especially when there's been transition like that."

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