Wayne State product Anthony Pittman transforms body, role under new Lions staff

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Every day linebacker Anthony Pittman pulls on his Detroit Lions jersey, he's continuing to defy the odds. 

Undrafted out of Wayne State, a school that's produced just one other NFL player since the turn of the century (running back Joique Bell), Pittman is entering his third season, all with the Lions. 

The fact that he's a local talent, who played his high school football at Birmingham Groves, makes it all the more special. After spending the majority of the past two years on Detroit's practice squad, there are still times when Pittman can't believe this is his life. 

Lions linebacker Anthony Pittman readies for a reception during drills.

"Man, it hits me a few times a week, like, I'm really in the NFL, I'm really with the Lions," he said. "The way I try to carry myself, maybe it doesn't look like it because I'm always trying to get better and always trying to grind, but man, I just look up and I'm grateful."

There's an inherent stress with being on the fringes of an NFL roster. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed for a practice squad player, nor is there any guaranteed money in their contracts.

Additionally, Pittman saw all of his supporters in the organization depart in the past several months. The scout who discovered him, the GM who signed him and the coaches who invested in his development are all no longer with the organization. 

In reality, it's reminiscent of his rookie season, in terms of having to make a quick and impactful impression with a brand new set of decision-makers. 

Pittman got a head start on impressing the coaching staff with a physical transformation this offseason. Much has been made of fellow linebacker Jahlani Tavai's weight loss, but Pittman has also dropped significant weight after packing on the pounds at the request of the previous regime. 

An inside linebacker in high school and college, the former staff moved him to the outside. To adequately perform the assignments, including regularly setting the edge, Pittman had to add more than 20 pounds to his frame. 

The new staff, led by defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, wanted Pittman to transition back to an inside role. That meant dropping 15 pounds to regain some of his lost quickness.

The next step for Pittman has been making an impression on the field. On Monday, he was doing just that. During an early full-team segment, he dropped back into zone coverage, read quarterback David Blough's eyes and jumped a pass intended for wide receiver Tom Kennedy. 

Pittman found himself in perfect position, intercepted the throw, and while there is no tackling during practice, he had a lane and it's conceivable he was turning the turnover into a touchdown. 

"I think he (Blough) saw me, but he tried to squeeze it past me though," Pittman said. "He felt like I didn't have enough depth and he tried to squeeze it past me, but I kind of sunk back and just grabbed it."

It was just the second interception by a Lions defender through five practices, and Pittman nearly came up with a second later in the day. He got a hand on the ball after Kennedy and Blough had a miscommunication, with the receiver running a route breaking inside and the throw going outside.

Pittman said he was happy to add the skill set required to play outside linebacker to his tool box, but even though the switch to inside linebacker carries added on-field responsibilities, it feels more natural. Any lingering gaps in knowledge he has had, he's been able to lean on veterans Jamie Collins and Alex Anzalone, while trying to emulate their approach.

"Ever since I've met the new staff, I just wanted them to know I was here to work," Pittman said. "That's what I'm all about. No matter what my opportunity is, I'm just working. Like coach (Glenn) has told me, it's in my DNA. Whatever opportunity presents itself, it's the right one."


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers