Allen Park — It wasn't that long ago Miles Killebrew looked like the Detroit Lions strong safety of the future, but for the past two seasons, he's primarily served as a special-teamer.
As this season has slipped away from the Lions, and the injuries have piled up, the team has been tinkering with its lineup rotations, creating some opportunities not just for younger players like running back Bo Scarbrough and cornerback Amani Oruwariye, but a seemingly forgotten veteran in Killebrew.
In last weekend's loss to Washington, Killebrew played 16 defensive snaps, his most since Week 13 of the 2017 season. The unique role, which had him on the field primarily on third downs, saw him in coverage every one of those 16 plays. That's notable since it was coverage struggles that caused him to fall out of favor in the first place.
“I think he did a really good job during training camp," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I think he built a lot of confidence in himself, and certainly through myself and the coaching staff that he was ready to go in some of the packages that we had."
While Killebrew was on the field, Washington threw the ball his direction twice, but didn't complete either pass.
"He’s always ready to go," Patricia said. "He’s a great student of the game. I think his confidence is at a high level of understanding kind of Year Two of the defense, and some of the things that we’re asking him to do and different roles and different alignments. I just think he feels comfortable with that."
Last offseason, the Lions attempted to convert Killebrew to linebacker, but following this year's trade of Quandre Diggs, Killebrew has been working more at safety once again.
At this point, it's fair to call him a hybrid player, capable of handling assignments at both spots. All the while, he's remained one of the league's most-productive special teams players, racking up 11 tackles.
The extended opportunity on defense comes at an important time for Killebrew. He's quietly been playing on the final year of his rookie contract and is set to be a free agent at season's end. The more he's able to show what he can do, the more marketable he'll be when he hits free agency.
But if you ask him about that, that's way too far into the future to command his attention.
"I haven't spent too much time thinking about it," Killebrew said. "I'm just focused on Chicago. I'm the kind of guy that's always more about what's going on right now."
Trubisky staying in the pocket more
If Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel plays Thursday and is limited by his sore hamstring, he might be staying in the pocket more than he used to.
That could make two quarterbacks at Ford Field.
Although not because of injury, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been staying home much more this season.
Trubisky averaged 25.7 rushing yards per game while amassing 669 yards in his first two seasons. This year, Trubisky is averaging 7.6 yards on the ground in Chicago’s first 10 games.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said it’s not a developmental or planned change in the third-year quarterback’s directives.
“We don’t game plan it, we just kind of let it happen,” Nagy said. “There are certain coverages that teams play, and I think one thing you noticed is that last year for whatever reason there were opportunities for Mitchell to be able to use his legs whether it’s in scramble or a run call.
"This year there is a little bit more attention at times to him, knowing that he can run and beat you with his legs."
A Pro Bowler last season, Trubisky has faced plenty of Chicago criticism this year until a win against the Lions this month helped guard him temporarily. Trubisky had a 131.0 passer rating in the 20-13 win on Nov. 10, the third-highest mark of his career.
Still, in that game, he rushed three times for 8 yards, going away from what has been a major weapon for Trubisky early in his career.
“We never teach him to not run and we never teach him to just go out there and run all the time,” Nagy said. “We just want him to play quarterback.”
After missing his NFL debut on Sunday, Austin Bryant will have his parents in the stands on Thursday.
It was short notice to get to Washington, D.C., from south Georgia last week, but Michael and Debbie Campbell are already in town ready to see their son take on the Bears.
Bryant, a fourth-round pick out of Clemson, made one quarterback hit last week in 16 defensive snaps. He was debuting after an injury to his pectoral muscle that he suffered during training camp.
“Everything I thought it would be, it was the best to be out there,” Bryant said. “I’ve got a lot to learn from, but it was good to be back in the flow of things, for sure.”
Perhaps nearly as important, Bryant hopes his folks also have his favorite dishes — macaroni and cheese from his mother, and his dad’s sweet potato pie — ready waiting for him after the game.
“It’s a lot of tradition for a lot of families, watch football and eat good,” Bryant said. “But this time, you get to play, then eat good. A little change-up.
"I'm looking forward to playing and eating a good meal after."
Thursday’s meeting is a rematch of the first Thanksgiving Day game, when the Bears beat the Lions 19-16 on Nov. 29, 1934. The Lions are 37-40-2 on the holiday, with the Bears being the second most common opponent.
The Lions are 8-9 against Chicago on Thanksgiving. Detroit is 12-8-1 against Green Bay on Thanksgiving.
The annual Thanksgiving fare at Ford Field also includes new items, including smoked turkey loaded fries, grilled turkey burgers, Thanksgiving Day loaded potato, and Ford Field traditional smoked turkey legs.
Gates open at 10:30 a.m. and the game is at the traditional 12:30 p.m. start. America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade begins at 8:45 a.m., with Turkey Trot races starting at 7:30.
Country-rock duo Brothers Osborne is performing at halftime. Country artist Jimmie Allen is performing the national anthem.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.