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O'HARA: Linebackers reflect how defense has changed under Patricia

In numbers, makeup and how they might be used, the Detroit Lions' linebackers reflect how the defense has changed under new head coach Matt Patricia.

The official six-man unit that will take the field in Monday night's opening game against the New York Jets has been molded and shaped by change in a continuing process from the end of last season through the first day of practice this week.

The two holdovers from last year are 2017 draft picks – starting middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (first round), and athletic backup Jalen Reeves-Maybin (fourth round).

Devon Kennard and Christian Jones were signed early in free agency.

Eli Harold was acquired in a trade with San Francisco before the last preseason game.

Marquis Flowers was claimed off waivers from the Patriots, where he played under Patricia in 2017 and posted 3.5 sacks.

There has been addition and subtraction to the unit by players currently on the roster.

Nick Bellore was moved to fullback as a full-time position after seven seasons at linebacker.

The addition is Miles Killebrew, who's listed as a safety but was moved to linebacker late in training camp. He has flourished in a role that was carved out to take advantage of his skill set.

Regardless of official numbers and how the unit was assembled, there will be a change in how the linebackers will be used in the regular season compared to the preseason.

It's a given that teams don't show their full arsenal in the preseason, and that's certainly the case for the Lions. But that also will be carried over from week to week in the regular season. Don't expect to see the Lions line up in a base defense from the start of the season to the end.

"There's a foundation of it, for sure," said linebackers coach Al Golden when asked how much of the Lions' defense was on display in the preseason. "There'll be more multiplicity going into Game One than we've seen. We'll settle in here to a game plan.

"The biggest thing you'll see with Coach Patricia is, there's not necessarily carryover from week to week. We'll do whatever we have to do to take their best players away, and the things they do really well.

"From that standpoint, we have to be ready to adapt."

The linebacker position was built to adapt and be versatile.

Based on size and experience, Kennard (6-4, 256), Flowers (6-3, 245) and Harold (6-3, 243, or bigger) can line up at defensive end. They work with the defensive line in some practice periods.

"In our system, Devon Kennard and Eli and those guys are lining up at defensive end as much as anything else," Golden said. "They're an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid, but they're trained at linebacker. That's what makes them versatile."

Killebrew's position change has put him in the box more often than he was at safety, where he played his first two seasons. At 6-2 and 222 pounds, he has size, range and hitting instincts that fit the Lions' schemes.

"We're making him a linebacker to make him a good in-the-box player," Golden said. "The things he does in space naturally – chase the ball, the contact, all that – is really good. We're working on the finite things to be a linebacker.

"The game has changed. It's so specialized. We have so many different groupings. The way it's developed is a grouping he's excelled at. He plays strong. He's doing really well."

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