Allen Park — In case you missed the memo, the Detroit Lions are placing an emphasis on size at the linebacking position. Under coach Matt Patricia, bigger is better. That's why the team swapped out Tahir Whitehead for Christian Jones a year ago and zeroed in Hawaii's Jahlani Tavai in last month's draft.
And while no one told him to it, middle linebacker Jarrad Davis wanted to do his part to better fit Detroit's defensive scheme.
Davis, who weighed in at a perfectly middle-of-the-road 238 pounds coming into the league two years ago, came into this year's offseason program noticeably bigger, according to position coach Al Golden.
"To be honest with you, he challenged himself to do that, and he is bigger now," Golden said. "Right now, he’s bigger than he was at any point in his career and he’s holding it really well. I couldn't believe when he walked in from the offseason. He had a great offseason. He’s really excited about the challenge to grow as a leader, to be honest with you."
At this point, Golden said it was too early to say whether Davis' will stick at the heavier weight. The player and team will analyze his effectiveness with the extra pounds throughout the offseason. But pushing himself beyond expectations is on-brand for a player routinely praised for his football character and commitment to improve.
"All you have to do is provide him the resources and he’ll outwork anything you can put in front of him," Golden said. "He sets a high standard."
That drive translated to noticeable results in 2018, his second season. Davis made significant strides to clean up his deficiencies in coverage, while emerging as one of the NFL's most efficient situational pass-rushers. He generated pressure on 27 of his 116 rushes (23.3 percent), according to Pro Football Focus.
Again, Golden credited Davis' intrinsic drive as the genesis of the linebacker's success in that department.
"As it relates to Jarrad’s development there, a lot of that was related to Jarrad, the want-to, he wanted to learn," Golden said. "Really, if you ask JD, I think he’d say he got better, but he’s hungry, because he left some out there. He left a couple sacks out there that I know he thought he could have gotten."
Golden acknowledged the addition of Tavai in the draft, with his experience being able to play middle linebacker, should enhance Detroit's ability to move Davis around and maximize his ability to affect the quarterback.
The next step in Davis' development, according to Golden, is to continue to hone the pass-rush skills, both inside and outside, while making more plays on the ball while in coverage.
"I think he would say he definitely wants to continue to improve man-to-man (coverage)," Golden said. "We’ve got to get our hands on more balls in zones. We have to deflect more balls, PBUs, and we have to intercept some. That’s really a challenge for all of us at linebacker. That’s been a point of emphasis for us."
As for the intensity Davis' approaches personal improvement, even during the offseason, Golden said that's the foundation of the leader the young linebacker has become.
"He sets a high standard," Golden said. "Good leaders hold teammates to that same high standard. That’s where he is on that growth continuum, the leadership continuum. He’s starting to master the skills necessary to go outside and pull people with him. I think that’s where his comfort level is right now and I’m excited to see it because he’s so much fun to work with."