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Allen Park — Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has found himself a new chess piece. Rookie linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin slowly is growing into a role, providing an already versatile defense with additional flexibility.

A fourth-round pick out of Tennessee, Reeves-Maybin has played fewer than 100 defensive snaps this season, but averaged 24.5 the past two games, impressively tallying nine stops during the stretch.

“I think as a young guy, he’s very athletic,” Austin said. “He’s got really good bend and feel. So, that’s where he really gives us something, really athletically, more like a strong-safety type playing linebacker.”

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When you turn on the film, Reeves-Maybin’s instincts jump out. He reads and reacts to plays quickly, helping him get to his spot quickly and cover up some of his size and strength deficiencies that are being addressed in the weight room.

“Watching him over OTAs and minicamp, his growth over that time has been tremendous,” teammate Tahir Whitehead said. “He’s playing fast, going downhill and really shooting. When he sees something, he’s trusting his eyes and just going.”

Reeves-Mabyin’s emergence as a trusted option in the defense has allowed the Lions to play some different formations this season. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, when the primary focus was on slowing down running back Le’Veon Bell, the unit incorporated multiple four-linebacker looks.

“Any time you can do multiple things, I think it helps out,” said Reeves-Maybin, 22. “I think we have a lot of guys that can do that.”

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It goes without saying the rookie is a work in progress. He’s played fewer pro snaps this season than Whitehead works every two weeks. But the flashes of Reeves-Maybin potential are there, and showing at a surprising frequency.

The focus now is to continue to deliver over longer stretches.

“I just want to be a lot more consistent,” Reeves-Maybin said. “I’m not going to say I’m not the player I want to be, but I’m not the playing how I want to play, yet. I feel like I’m developing every day.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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