It hasn’t been an easy path for young Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis. As a rookie, he was immediately thrown into the middle linebacker position, arguably the most complex position on the defensive side of the field. As the defensive play-caller, you not only need a complex understanding of your own defense, but you have to have the personality of a leader... all at 22 years old.
After an understandable up-and-down rookie year, things only got more complicated for Davis. With a new head coach and defensive coordinator in town, Davis went into his second season having to learn an entirely different scheme while losing a huge chunk of the defensive players he had grown chemistry with. Nearly every linebacker he had played alongside in 2017—Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Steve Longa and Nick Bellore—was gone in 2018.
But head coach Matt Patricia pointed out yet another disadvantage Davis has had over his young career: the lack of a mentor at the position.
“He’s one of our better players and he’s out there in front, and it’s hard, because there hasn’t been that consistent, dynamic guy next to him that maybe has 10 years of experience,” Patricia said during the media breakfast at the owners meetings this week.
And with a schematic change, Patricia noted just how important it was to have someone he called a “lineage-transfer” or a veteran player that can help teach the endless intricacies of the position in the new scheme.
“I had that situation before where I brought in a young linebacker but he sat next to guys that have been in the league, they’re All Pro, Super Bowl champion guys that have been in the league 10, 12 years,” Patricia said. “The knowledge that you get instantly, within a year or two of sitting next to those guys, it’s so valuable, and that’s something that JD hasn’t really had.”
Unfortunately for Davis, it appears he may be headed into his third season without that mentor. The Lions have not signed another linebacker this free agency and the only players with multiple years under Patricia’s system are Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Tavon Wilson.
Patricia said it’s on him and the coaching staff to compensate for Davis’ lack of a mentor.
“We’ve got to keep giving it to him as much as possible, and that’s what keeps me up at night,” Patricia said. “Those are the thing I want to make sure that I can do to help him just be a better player, be a better person, be a better leader, all of it.”
However, Patricia does think Davis could benefit from some of the players in that locker room now. They may not play the exact same position as him, but they can help give him the overall vision of the defense.
“Guys like (Devon) Kennard really help the room a lot,” Patricia said. “(Quandre) Diggs, we’ve got guys like that in there. Trey Flowers will help a lot, Snacks is great, you know, his insight. You can learn from all of those guys and that’s what’s so important.”
This isn’t to excuse all of Davis’ early faults. Plenty of his playing issues are his own and were concerns some had entering the draft process. But there’s little doubt Davis’ route to NFL success has had plenty of potholes and road-bumps along the way.