Lions' practice before heading to Indianapolis for two days of joint practice with the Colts as well as their first preseason game on Sunday. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
Allen Park — It seems like every year an undrafted player emerges to claim a roster spot for the Detroit Lions.
In the past five years, cornerback Adairius Barnes, tight end Cole Wick, running back Zach Zenner, safety Jerome Couplin, offensive tackles Cornelius Lucas and LaAdrian Waddle, and tight end Joseph Fauria can all make this claim.
While we’re still a few weeks away from seeing if the streak continues, defensive end Alex Barrett is stating his case.
Here’s the thing about Barrett. He’s undersized, relative to his position, and particularly in Detroit’s scheme. At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, he’s noticeably smaller than the counterparts in his position group, but he takes a glass-half-full approach to what some others may view as a negative.
“I call it natural pad level. It allows me to play low, I just have to be strong at the point of attack,” Barrett said. “I have to be the aggressor.”
His size didn’t stop him from stepping in and playing nose tackle as a sophomore at San Diego State, when the team had depth issues up front. That experience helped him learn how to better handle bigger blockers and to effectively use his quickness on stunts, something the Lions routinely incorporate into their pass rush.
Barrett was contacted by a number of teams after the draft, but a call from Lions coach Jim Caldwell two days before the event conveyed a more serious level of interest to the young defensive end, leading him to choose Detroit.
“That’s the unique thing about this league is that the pass rushers come in all shapes and sizes,” Caldwell said. “It just kind of depends on their strengths and what they can do on it. He’s one of those guys that I think is going to have to work it out. You can see he’s got up the field sort of speed where he can certainly move. He can also crush the pocket a little bit.”
Caldwell has had the privilege of coaching two the NFL’s greatest undersized pass rushers — Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis — but surprisingly didn’t use at as a selling point with Barrett. Not that Barrett needed the reminder.
“No, not at all, but I know who he’s coached,” Barrett said. “When you’re an undersized player, you try to compare yourself to someone who has a playing style you want to play with. Those two, Freeney and Mathis, are definitely undersized, but get off the ball, athletic as heck and can really play football.”
And since he’s arrived in Detroit, Barrett has leaned on Kerry Hyder Jr. as a mentor. Also undrafted, it took three years for Hyder to crack a roster.
“He’s had a journey,” Barrett said. “He was a practice squad guy, coach preaches how he hustles and he played his butt off in preseason a couple years ago. I look up to him and he’s helped me a lot, gave me a lot of input on what I need to do to make this team.”
If Barrett wants to break through to the roster, he’ll need to make some noise in the preseason, like Hyder did last year to secure his spot.
In addition to Hyder, Ziggy Ansah, Cornelius Washington and Anthony Zettel sit ahead of Barrett on the depth chart, with Armonty Bryant and seventh-round draft pick Pat O’Connor in the mix for a potential fifth spot.