Allen Park — If there was an obvious theme to the Detroit Lions’ offseason approach to changing defensive schemes, it was getting bigger at linebacker.
The team made little effort to re-sign Tahir Whitehead, instead moving quickly to add Devon Kennard and Christian Jones in the early stages of free agency. Kennard is 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds, while Jones checks in at 6-3, 243 pounds.
In the ensuing weeks, Detroit also signed Jonathan Freeny and Trevor Bates, a pair of linebackers listed at 6-2 and weighing 245 and 247 pounds, respectively.
It begged the question, what did the shift in desired traits mean for Jalen Reeves-Maybin, last year’s fourth-round draft pick?
Reeves-Maybin checked in at 230 pounds at the scouting combine last year, but a shoulder injury prevented him from sticking to his regular lifting routine and caused him to slip south of that target weight with the Lions. He was far enough below the number that he routinely declined to reveal the scale’s reading throughout 2017.
While no one is about to confuse him for Kennard or Jones, Reeves-Maybin came into the offseason program noticeably bigger, especially through the lower body. He’s back up to 230 pounds, thanks to staying committed in the weight room and at the dinner table.
“Just dedicating a lot of time to it, not getting lazy with it,” he said. “You’ve got to be consistent with lifting, eating and making sure in-season and offseason you don’t let that slip.”
With his diet, Reeves-Maybin said he’s been aiming to eat every three hours, making sure his body has a steady supply of fuel to offset his naturally rapid caloric consumption.
And while he might not have the ideal frame coach Matt Patricia wants at the position, Reeves-Maybin makes up it with his mind.
When he was drafted last year, general manager Bob Quinn raved about Reeves-Maybin’s instincts, his ability to read and react to a play quicker than most at his position. It’s that ability to diagnosis quickly that allowed teammate Glover Quin to overcome his average size and speed and become a Pro Bowl-level player.
Beyond size, linebackers coach Al Golden recently emphasized the importance of players being able to problem solve on the fly as a key to being successful in the scheme. That creates a window for Reeves-Maybin to carve out a role.
“As far as just him as a player, very smart, instinctual, really grasping what we’re trying to do from a defensive scheme standpoint,” Patricia said. “And the thing about him that’s surprising is he is a very explosive player. Like you can get that short-space quickness, but when he gets near you, he just has that ability to unload his hips, unlock and hit with really good power.”
As a rookie, Reeves-Maybin’s playing time fluctuated wildly, playing between 0-37 snaps on defense. He had a more consistent role on special teams, working over 50 percent of the snaps with those groups through his first year.
This offseason, Reeves-Maybin has bounced around, working with both the first- and second-team defenses. At the very least, he should be able to carve out a sub-package role and continue contributing on special teams.
“It’s a time where a lot of guys make a lot of progress, from Year 1 to Year 2,” he said. “I’m just trying to come out here, get better every day, be one of those guys that make a big jump.”