There weren’t a whole lot of positives head coach Matt Patricia could glean from his team’s 31-3 loss to New England in their preseason opener last week, but one was the play of third-year linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
“Guys like (Miles) Killebrew and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, some of those guys that I thought really stepped up into some roles, that maybe they hadn’t had an opportunity to showcase before, and I thought that was really good,” Patricia said Saturday after having a chance to fully evaluate the tape of Thursday’s contest.
Reeves-Maybin made a nice play on special teams, which we’ve become accustomed to seeing, and also a couple nice plays on defense, where he hasn’t had as big a role through his first two seasons in the NFL.
He played sparingly on defense last year in nine appearances before a neck injury ended his season prematurely. Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard and Christian Jones took the majority of snaps at linebacker.
All three of those players return this season, and the team also added second-round pick Jahlani Tavai to the mix, but so far in camp Reeves-Maybin has taken advantage of the opportunity to play more on defense because of injuries ahead of him. Kennard, Davis and Jones have all missed time in camp, and that’s given Reeves-Maybin and other linebackers the opportunity to step into a few new roles and show coaches what they can do.
“Within our room we have just a good mentality overall. Everyone is working to have that next-man-up mentality,” Reeves-Maybin said after Sunday’s practice. “When one person goes down we don’t expect to have a falloff at all. It was my turn to step up and do that for the team and I just tried to go out there and put on my best performance.”
And coaches took notice.
Entering his third season, Reeves-Maybin provides experienced depth at linebacker and a unique skillset different from a lot of the linebackers on the roster. Detroit’s made a shift on defense to features bigger linebackers that can stand up to the run and be versatile off the ball and on the line of scrimmage.
Reeves-Maybin doesn’t necessarily fit that profile at 6-foot and 233 pounds, but Patricia likes the speed and energy he brings on defense. It allows him to play bigger than he is.
“I thought some of the things that he did defensively – he played much quicker, much faster,” Patricia said of Reeves-Maybin’s play in the preseason opener. “He’s a very explosive player anyway. He has great skill set that you see a lot of times on special teams, and when he has those opportunities on defense.”
There could be some packages on defense where the Lions might want to utilize his speed and explosiveness, but special teams are still where Reeves-Maybin should continue to make a big impact.
He’s stepping into a leadership role, and has become a core special teamer with his ability to play in space. The way the kickoff rules have changed in the NFL, there’s now more space between players. We aren’t seeing linemen and the bigger bodied players in that part of the game anymore. Players who can run and tackle in space are preferred.
Players like Reeves-Maybin make up the depth of this football team. It’s good for both him and the Lions that when his name has been called to play a bigger role these first three weeks of camp, he’s made the most of the opportunity.