Allen Park — In preparation for a switch to a new defensive scheme, the Detroit Lions made it a priority to get bigger at linebacker this offseason, signing Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Jonathan Freeny. Additionally, the team is also experimenting with moving second-year defensive end Alex Barrett off the ball.
The Lions aggressively pursued the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Barrett as an undrafted free agent last season, committing $36,000 in guarantees to the lineman out of San Diego State.
A top-flight run-stuffer in the Mountain West Conference who operated primarily from the interior, Barrett transitioned to an edge rusher as a rookie. He earned a roster spot on Detroit's inaugural 53-man roster before spending the majority of the year on the team's practice squad.
As a linebacker in Detroit's current scheme, Barrett would still frequently line up on the line of scrimmage, but would also need to show the versatility to play off the ball and drop into coverage. According to coach Matt Patricia, the biggest adjustment for a player making that transition is his eyes.
"When you look at the game, there’s a difference between trying to look at the game when your hand is in the dirt and you’re looking through the top of your eyelids than when you stand up," Patricia said. "You see a different vision range. Your focus and your eye control changes entirely and not everybody can do that.
"When you take those guys that are in college even to other guys that I have coached before, the Tedy Bruschi's of the world who played inside defensive line and then become linebackers, it’s really about eye control and their eye placement and if they can see the game that way so it’s different. Some can, and some can’t."
So far, so good, according to Barrett. He's embraced the challenge, the same way he did when the Lions surprisingly asked him to work snaps at fullback last season.
"Nothing has been too hard, playbook-wise," Barrett said. "You have to learn more about coverages, those kinds of things, so the workload has been the biggest thing."
Barrett has taken some reps with the first-team defense early in training camp while filling in for Kennard, who is currently on the non-football injury list. The two share a similar physical profile and Kennard has been a valuable resource in the transition, according to Barrett.
"DK, he's been in this league for a while, so any time I can tap into his head and learn something, I do that all the time," Barrett said. "He's always there to help me, which has been great."