Miles Killebrew is feeling comfortable with the way the Detroit Lions’ defense is being put together, and that includes his role in it.
For a player who had to make a position switch – to linebacker from playing safety for two seasons – there’s more to the process of achieving a comfort level than for most players.
This is Killebrew’s fourth season with the Lions, and his second in the scheme brought in a year ago by head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
For a football team, familiarity should breed production, not contempt.
“Every year it's different,” Killebrew said Monday. “You add different pieces to the puzzle. I will say, this year it’s been a lot of fun gelling together as a group.
“There’s definitely a chemistry we’ve struck here. It’s going to be exciting moving forward each week, getting closer and closer together.”
The defense already is facing a serious challenge from the ankle injury sustained last week by linebacker Jarrad Davis in Game 3 of the preseason. It is not a season-ending injury, but it’s likely that some adjustments will be made until Davis returns.
Significant additions were made to the unit in the offseason. Linemen Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels and cornerback Justin Coleman were signed as free agents. The draft brought linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round and safety Will Harris in the third.
There was a noticeable improvement when Daniels and defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. – acquired in a midseason trade last year – played for the first time in Game 3.
“You’re starting to see more guys come back,” Killebrew said. “We’re getting ready to get going here.”
The defense gelled last season after a bad start. A second-half turnaround coincided with Harrison’s arrival. The Lions gave up 1,136 rushing yards in the first eight games and only 621 in the second half.
The defense wound up ranked 10th overall and 10th at stopping the run.
There has been a carryover from last season’s starting point.
“One of those things is, it just takes time in a new system,” Killebrew said. “You can see it in practice and in the film room. Guys are making calls. We’re all speaking the same language. That’s one of the things people don’t realize, maybe.
“The language changes when you bring in a new system. Now we’re speaking the same language, and it’s one of those things that as time goes on we’re getting better at.”
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.
Can the defense start the 2019 season at the level it finished the 2018 season?
Good question, but there is no clear answer.
“I don’t know if I have an answer for that,” Killebrew said. “I would say that there’s definitely a comfort level that you can sense in the locker room. When we’re out there on the field, you can tell guys are gelling together a little bit more.
“As time goes on, you get more comfortable in the system. The same is true for most of the guys here. When they say you play faster, that just means game slows down for you.
“For me personally, as I get more comfortable with the system, you get out there and learn more within the confines of the system. You get to play faster.
“As a defense collectively, that’s your goal – to play as fast as we can. That takes not only comfort with the system, but with each other.”