Over the last three years under head coach Matt Patricia, the Detroit Lions have made a concerted effort to bulk up at the linebacker position with players who fit a particular size, weight and skill set.
Jamie Collins Sr., Christian Jones, Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai and Reggie Ragland are all in the 250-260-pound range. They stand up to the run and their size allows for some versatility within Patricia's multi-look scheme.
Fourth-year linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin doesn't really fit that mold. He's 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, and his game is more predicated on speed than it is blunt force. But still, Reeves-Maybin continues to find a way to make plays when given the opportunity to play, and not just on special teams where he's become an elite player in this league as a cover guy. When he's gotten some run on defense, he's made the most of it, which is a credit to how he's developed his game over the years and plays to his strengths.
"I just think it's helped me grow as a player, just making me more open to different things I can do on the field," Reeves-Maybin said in a Zoom call Thursday about finding his own niche playing on defense.
"Being able to play different parts of the defense, we do a lot of stuff as a defense, and especially as a linebacker group, so I just think it's been great figuring out that I can do those different types of things. I might be smaller, or whatever, but that's part of the beauty of the defense, so many guys being able to do so many different things."
View photos from Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage on Sept. 3, 2020.
The Lions turned to Reeves-Maybin at the end of last year to start at linebacker with some of the injuries they had at the position. He started the final three games of the season against Tampa Bay, Denver and Green Bay, playing 197 snaps in those three contests and recording 19 tackles.
"I think it's just all about being ready for opportunities," he said about the chance to start at the end of last year. "Within that linebacker room ever since I've been here everyone's always just held everyone accountable and try to keep a high standard in the room. There's no falloff no matter who's in there playing."
Reeves-Maybin has seemingly picked up right where he left off at the end of last season and has had a solid training camp. At least Patricia thinks so.
"He's made tremendous strides for us, I would say, let's just go back to the end of last season," Patricia said. "I think one of the things he really was able to do toward the end of the season was kind of go and take command of the defense, be able to get the calls out, the communication, turn around and recognize the offense, make sure we get the tight end call, look at the backfield set, get in run stunts then get into the coverage and identify all that.
"The game seems to just be slowing down for him a little bit. It doesn't seem that there's too many people moving and then the game is going by too fast. I see that he just kind of recognizes a lot more and he plays with a lot more patience right now."
Reeves-Maybin is a core special teams player, who showed at the end of last year he can contribute on defense, too.
He's doesn't fit the profile of most of the guys playing the position around him, but if he continues to make plays and continues to be productive, the Lions could find ways to get him on the field on defense in 2020.