Detroit Lions third-year linebacker Derrick Barnes is showing that he’s not ready to step aside for anyone – not even first-round draft pick Jack Campbell.
Coaches Praise Barnes’ Development
Veteran linebacker coach, Kelvin Sheppard, lavished praise on Barnes during a press conference on the last day of OTA’s. He couldn’t hide his admiration for the linebacker, lighting up at the mere mention of his name.
“I light up whenever somebody says Derrick’s name…he’s like a little brother to me,” Sheppard shared, ” it is proven, we are going to play the best players. We do not care what that looks like, and when that starts top down it’s easy for me to walk into my linebacker room after we take a guy at pick 18, because in probably 20 other rooms that player is starting and there is nothing you can do about it….but that’s not the case here… I’m telling you right now, he’s not going away quietly.”
Barnes finished the 2022 season with an impressive 43 total tackles and four starts. He’s been showcasing his growth and maturity throughout the recent offseason activities. According to Sheppard, Barnes has transformed since walking into the building for phase two:
That is a player that I’ve seen look like a completely different player. I mean, a kid growing into a man. Taking charge, holding people accountable, running the huddle, letting everybody know ‘I know what I’m doing,’ now let me help you out. That’s that next step right there to me.
Echoing Sheppard’s sentiments, Head Coach Dan Campbell acknowledged, “Barnes is having a good spring. Nobody is counting Barnes out. He’s going to get his opportunity.”
Alex Anzalone: The “Coach” on the Field
While Barnes represents the future, the importance of experience cannot be discounted. This is where Alex Anzalone comes into the picture. Respected by teammates and coaches alike, he offers a unique blend of expertise and intuition that elevates the entire team.
Describing Anzalone’s value, Sheppard stated:
It’s almost like having an assistant coach on the field. He knows what I’m thinking, he knows why… he gets to me before I can get to him. I’m so thrilled to have that player back and the multiple things he can do for our defense.
Anzalone’s big 2022 season speaks for itself. He registered 125 total tackles, a new career-high. Moreover, he was one of only two NFL players with at least 115 tackles, 1.0 sack, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery last season.
Embracing Competition and Fostering Growth
For both the Lions’ coaching staff and the linebacker room, competition and growth go hand in hand. With the arrival of Jack Campbell, the competitive environment has intensified.
The Lions’ Head Coach underscored Anzalone’s significance as a mentor, saying, “You can learn a lot from him and he doesn’t have to directly sit there and just spoon-feed Campbell… but to watch him work and how he sees things… it’s big.”
Sheppard welcomed this development across the linebacker room, stating, “These guys have taken him in like he’s been here since we all got here in ’21 and they have been competing.” This sentiment was echoed by the head coach, who highlighted the benefits of depth and competition.
You’ve added competition in that room and depth… I just think, there again, man, you’re adding another guy who’s trying to go in there and compete and help us win. Hopefully, he’s trying to earn a position and with that, it’s only going to put more pressure on the guy next to you to compete and be on top of your game.
As OTA’s wrap up, the Lions’ linebacker room presents a fascinating picture: a blend of youthful exuberance and seasoned wisdom. As the pieces come together under the expert guidance of Kelvin Sheppard, the Lions have a linebacker group that refuses to be overshadowed. One thing is certain: they will not be going quietly into the 2023 season.
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