NAPA, Calif. – Miles Killebrew has been roaming new territory on the Detroit Lions’ defense this week, moving up from the safety position he played his first two seasons to linebacker.
Depending on personal perspective – and Killebrew hasn’t expressed an opinion in talking to the media – it could be taken as a demotion from one position or an opportunity to apply a skill set that fits better at another.
Killebrew’s experience at safety, and his play on special teams, are assets. He’ll have to use those to convert to linebacker for however long he’s there.
“I’m just a football player,” Killebrew said this week following the Lions’ training camp practices with the Raiders. “Wherever he (head coach Matt Patricia) wants me to be, that’s where I’m going to be.
“This week, right now, I’m working with the linebackers.”
At 6-2 and 222 pounds, Killebrew was the tallest safety on the roster and the heaviest, by 10 pounds over Tavon Wilson. He’ll be the lightest linebacker, weighing eight pounds less Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Based on his size, and his reputation as a hitter in his primary role as a backup safety, it would seem that the Lions’ staff has a defined role in mind for Killebrew, assuming he can handle a new position.
The NFL puts a premium on role players and versatility because of substitution packages and the need for depth because of injuries.
“That’s what’s great about football, is that everybody has a role,” Patricia said Wednesday. “And we always express that you have to be great in the role.
“I think the guys that really understand that, and the guys that can go out every day and just really perfect their craft, their skill level and understand the importance of how big that is in the game – those are the guys that really go out and produce in those critical situations. He’s been great at that.”
There are numerous examples on the Lions’ roster of players who’ve played multiple roles, either within their individual position or in position changes.
View photos from Day 11 of 2018 Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage.
Wide receiver TJ Jones was a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 who missed his rookie season because of an injury. Jones has been a valuable part of the receiving corps because of his ability to play all positions across the board. He’s reliable, and doesn’t make mental errors. He had a career-high 30 catches last season before going out for the season with an injury with two games left.
Quandre Diggs was primarily a cornerback and nickel back his first two seasons and began last season in that same role. When strong safety Tavon Wilson went out for the season with an injury in Game 10, it was Diggs who stepped in for him for the last six games.
Diggs performed like a veteran safety. He had his only three career interceptions and his only sack in those last three games. He added further to his reputation of being a smart, instinctive player.
One of the more dramatic position shifts this year is Nick Bellore going from linebacker on defense to fullback on offense. Bellore played linebacker and special teams his first six seasons, with some limited work at fullback with the Lions last year in year seven. He’s strictly a fullback this year.
Killebrew is getting a different view of the game at linebacker from what he was accustomed to at safety.
“They’re a lot closer (to the line),” he said. “Things happen a lot faster. You have to pay attention to the offensive line a lot more. The terminology is different. Who you’re talking to his a little different.”