Allen Park — After splitting time between two positions during the 2015 season, the Detroit Lions opted to permanently move Brandon Copeland to defensive end this offseason, allowing him to fine-tune his skill at his more natural fit.
Copeland has been fully immersed in moving from linebacker to end this year, bulking back up to 260 pounds and focusing all his practice time and film study on the nuances of playing at the line of scrimmage. But when injuries decimated Detroit’s linebacking corps last week, he was reeled back into the second level of the defense.
Considering his limited defensive role in the season opener, Copeland embraced the opportunity.
“Last week was awesome to be honest with you,” he said. “You never want to see guys on your team to go down, but that’s part of this game and the nature of the beast. It was good to get a chance to step in there and keep things rolling without a drop-off.”
Copeland played a career-high 34 defensive snaps in the loss to the Tennessee Titans while maintaining a prominent role on special teams. He recorded three tackles in the contest.
And while the Lions lost the game by surrendering a late, lengthy touchdown drive to the Titans, Copeland played well, given the circumstances. He was regularly in position to make plays, impressively tracking running back DeMarco Murray across the field and making the stop for a short gain on a swing pass in the fourth quarter.
“It was a great opportunity to fall back on my instincts — see ball, get ball,” Copeland said. “Looking back at the game, there’s obviously always things you could have done better, plays you want back, but given my circumstances and preparation, I was happy with it.”
For the time being, Copeland is back to splitting his time between the two roles, at least until the Lions can get healthy at linebacker again. DeAndre Levy and backup Antwione Williams are both doubtful for this week’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Kyle Van Noy, who suffered a calf injury that forced him from the game against the Titans, has been practicing, but on a limited basis.
That leaves the Lions with just two fully healthy linebackers on the active roster, unless they promote one from the practice squad on Saturday.
Although he was happy to have a more permanent position this season, Copeland doesn’t mind showcasing his positional flexibility. He’s grateful for the opportunity to contribute anywhere the Lions need him.
“I’ve done a good job keeping my speed,” Copeland said. “I’m staying later than usual to get in my stretching and taking care of my body. At the end of the day, we all have a job that we need to get done.”