The Detroit Lions looked horrible in their preseason opener.
They were absolutely hammered by the New England Patriots and lost 31-3 to kick off their 2019 season. While it was a down night for almost the entire roster, top to bottom, one player did manage to stand out.
Lions safety Miles Killebrew racked up six total tackles on Thursday, and put together his best performance in the Lions uniform in a very long time. While it did come against the Patriots’ reserve offense for the most part, it could be a sign of things to come for Killebrew.
Even head coach Matt Patricia came away impressed with Killebrew’s performance on Thursday night.
“He seemed to just be able to play really fast which was great to see out there,” Patricia said on Sunday. “I think he is doing a good job of understanding the concepts of what we’re doing. We moved him into a couple different spots based off need that we had. He played on the line, he played off the ball, he played in some of those different packages. He handled it really well from an overall understanding of what we were trying to do.”
The 2016 fourth-round pick is officially listed as a safety on the depth chart, but he has been practicing with the linebackers since training camp in 2018. He ended up playing zero snaps on defense last season, only appearing on special teams, so he clearly has fallen out of favor after an impressive first year and a half in the league.
Killebrew is undersized for a linebacker, and does not really meet the mold for what Matt Patricia looks for in linebackers that play in his defense. He does fit the mold for where the NFL is going in general, though.
Current Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Deone Bucannon started a trend years ago where safeties would serve as smaller, faster, linebackers who could play in the box, drop into coverage and shoot gaps to cover the run. It is a trend that spread around the league, and teams like the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers have found real success filling their defensive front with defensive back/linebacker hybrids.
Killebrew fits this mold well. He is a strong tackler, and definitely has the speed to make a mess in the backfield of opposing offenses. While he is poor in coverage, he is still around the same level of the other Lions linebackers.
Detroit most likely plans to use a lot of three safety personnel groupings this season. They already use a nickel package as their base defense as well. The Lions, just like the rest of the NFL, are starting to move away from bigger stronger linebackers, and more towards smaller, faster guys.
Killebrew will not be a starter on defense this season barring a pile up of injuries, but if he continues his impressive preseason, then a player who did not appear at all of defense last season could work his way back into the defensive rotation.