ALLEN PARK >> Jim Caldwell and the Lions got major contributions from a group of youngsters in Sunday’s 35-23 win over the Cardinals.
Eight rookies played a role with first-round pick Jarrad Davis as the only rookie starter. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who was in for 62 percent of the offensive plays, finished with four catches for 69 yards including a pair of touchdowns.
“I think it’s kind of been, the last couple years we’ve had quite a few young guys playing for us early. It helps us without question because they make plays for us,’’ Caldwell said. “We just anticipate to we’re going to keep working, keep going.’’
Plus, second- and third-year players like safety Miles Killebrew who ran back an interception for a touchdown and defensive end Anthony Zettel who had the Lions only sack.
Here’s a look from Caldwell’s perspective on what he got from the young crew
1. It only seems like safety Miles Killebrew is on the field for every defensive snap. That’s because the second-year player is always in the middle of the action. “I think everybody knows from the first time he was in a ball game that he’s around the ball a lot. He’s active, he runs and he runs hard all the time. That without question helps him get himself in position. He’s always around the ball. Tipped ball, interception is one we talk about often. Because in the National Football League tipped balls rarely hit the ground. In college they’ll hit the ground more often than in the pros. … His progress has been good because he’s got the right traits — he works at it, he loves it, he has great passion and he has the talent level. … He’s a talented guy who works hard.’’
2. Jarrad Davis was in on 100 percent of the defensive snaps at middle linebacker. At times he looked like a rookie, other times he looked like a first-round pick. Davis had a team-high nine tackles. “He’s a young player, the thing about him is he’s got the kind of attitude you love, he’s going to make some mistakes here and there but he’s going to work to correct those things,’’ Caldwell said.
3. Something about rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay makes people want to compare him to the best receivers in the NFL. Caldwell won’t be drawn into that game. “He is who he is. He’s a guy I think we’re a long way away from defining what he can do after one ballgame, but I do think he’s got the right traits,’’ Caldwell said. “He’s got speed, he’s got height, he’s got quickness and he’s got toughness. We’ll see in the long run. We’ll see how many big plays he can make for us. He’s certainly capable. I wouldn’t like to compare him to anybody. He is who he is.’’
4. Nickel Quandre Diggs got his third season off to a good start on Sunday with three pass defenses. He rocked as a rookie and had a bit of an off year in 2016. Caldwell credits his improvement to three things: Years of service, familiarity with the scheme and competition. “It’s been a really good competition,’’ Caldwell said. “A lot of guys have stepped up their game and played better. I always felt that (Diggs) was always a play maker, always a gamer, he’s smart. The great thing is he had a very good game, the position he plays is full of challenges.’’
5. Defensive end Alex Barrett, an undrafted rookie, had his standout moments in training camp and the preseason — always on defense. On Sunday, he played 14 snaps on defense and made a surprise play as fullback for one red-zone play. “We’re always looking for opportunities to utilize our roster as much as we possibly can,” Caldwell said. “We’re also searching for body types and trying to see through evaluations throughout the spring and summer who could fill in that role. He did a pretty nice job yesterday. (He’s got the) body type, he’s mobile, he’s got vision and he doesn’t mind a collision once in awhile.’’