Lions developing Killebrew through varied defensive role

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Miles Kellebrew

Allen Park -- Rookie safety Miles Killebrew has been active each of the Detroit Lions' eight games this season, and for the past five, he's had a small, but varied defensive role.

Killebrew has played as many as 21 defensive snaps and as few as six during the stretch. It's been a live-action crash course for the team's fourth-round draft pick.

"I have played different roles each week," Killebrew said. "It's a lot to learn, but I've had to play each role, my understanding of the defense has skyrocketed. I feel like I've made tremendous gains from where I was in Week 1."

The Lions have utilized Killebrew as a linebacker, a safety and at cornerback. He's seen time in nickel and dime sub-packages and his bigger frame (6-2, 222 pounds) has earned him the call in certain short-yardage situations.

It hasn't always gone smoothly. He was beaten for a touchdown in coverage against Washington two weeks ago and surrendered a pair of third-down conversions against Houston last weekend, but the Lions expect the experience will accelerate his development.

"He is going to be inconsistent because he is a rookie," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "There’s a lot of things he hasn’t seen, but what I like about him is he’s real diligent in his preparation, he’s a great worker, he’ll run and he’ll hit and I think the thing we have to do to try to develop him is continue to get him in situations where he learns something. He can’t learn anything standing on the sideline. He’s got enough talent that we figure if we can get him in this role and let him grow that way, he’ll continue to develop as a football player.

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In college, Killebrew as a big fish in a small pond, racking up more than 130 tackles as a senior at Southern Utah. But Detroit's defensive scheme is far more complex, a difference the rookie called night and day.

"There are a lot of moving parts," Killebrew said. "Since I've had to learn different roles, it's made it that much more interesting for me. I'm feeling confident moving forward and I'm just trying to make myself available."

In addition to his role on the defense, Killebrew has been a four-phase special teams player for the Lions. Only Don Carey and Brandon Copeland have played more snaps with those units.

"I was talking to a couple of the young guys and I told him I haven’t seen a really good defensive player that wasn’t outstanding on special teams at some point in time," coach Jim Caldwell said. "Miles getting an opportunity to play there has helped our team, it certainly helps him and I think he’s getting better all the time."