Lions LB Derrick Barnes impresses, battles for starting role; camp notes

Lions LB Derrick Barnes

Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round pick in 2021, has noticed the game slowing down during training camp and the first two preseason games.

Barnes is looking to win a starting role. So far linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard likes what he sees.

“Derrick Barnes is coming, that’s a real thing. That player is a very explosive, very violent, very strong linebacker. For Derrick it’s always been above the neck, it’s not below the neck. He has everything you’re looking for below the neck,’’ Sheppard said.

“To play stack linebacker at a high level, it takes repetition, you can know the playbook all you want, when things are moving you got to know what you’re keying, what you’re diagnosing and in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds be able to ready and go make plays, that takes time,’’ Sheppard said. “And It’s my job as his coach to put him in as many situations as I can possibly do to prepare him for that. That player is a player that I am very pleased with.’’

Sheppard said he wasn’t telling the media anything he had not shared with his players.

As a rookie Barnes played in all 17 games with six starts last season. He finished with 67 tackles (36 solo) and two sacks.

Barnes said he came in during the spring OTAs with a focus on learning the playbook and now hopes to go out and execute. He appreciates the coaches who push him and all the guys in the linebackers room.

“Just the way he coaches, techniques for linebackers to work on, Just the mental aspect like he’s really big on that,’’ Barnes said after Thursday’s camp practice. “That’s helped me out a lot, helped me understand more about football, not only just going out and hitting somebody. Just the route concepts and what the offense is trying to do to the defense.’’

Barnes and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez are pushing each other.

“That’s what the whole room is about, competition. Malcolm is really advanced for how young he is. We learn from each other, he’s a good player and pushes me to be better, that goes around for the whole room,’’ Barnes said.

Backup QB position still open

Coach Dan Campbell wants to see either Tim Boyle or David Blough step up win the backup quarterback position. Both took reps during Thursday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game at the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

“I think what we need, is we need somebody to really take the reins, somebody needs to step up out of the two. I thought they both progressed last week,’’ Campbell said.  “Somebody needs to step up and run this offense, play efficient, play smart, take care of the football, get us first downs and when we get to the red zone score touchdowns for us.’’

Campbell said Boyle is likely to get the start on Sunday and will play with the starters. Blough started the second preseason game, a win at the Colts.

Jared Goff started the preseason opener. He will not play on Sunday no matter how much he pleads with Campbell to get playing time. He was at camp on Thursday, but didn’t throw during the team drills.

Returners named

Kalif Raymond will be the punt returner with Godwin Igwebuike returning kicks, according to Campbell on Thursday.

“At the end of the day in the preseason what you’re looking for is guys making explosive plays,’’ special teams coach Dave Fipp said.

“The good news for us is that there are a lot of positions on this roster that are really competitive. I think kick returning stuff is definitely one of those. We’ll see what happens in the last preseason game,’’ he added.

For returners there’s no way to know how much work they might get in the preseason games. It just depends on the flow of the game.

“I would say at the end of the day you only get a handful of reps for punt return, kick return,’’ Fipp said. “You don’t know how many times they’re going to punt the ball. We’ve punted the ball three times in two games. So if you’re playing against us and their returner got three looks, who do you put in. … There’s really no right way to do it.’’

Fipp said he values tape of past regular season games to spot a returner’s strengths.

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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