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Notes: Lions scaling back James Houston’s roles hoping to highlight his athleticism on edge

The Lions sixth round pick is putting his off-the-ball linebacker duties on hold so he can focus on his edge rushing.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

James Houston’s path to the NFL is an interesting story. He was recruited to play off-the-ball linebacker at Florida—a position he dearly loves—but after failing to break into the starting lineup, he graduated and transferred to Jackson State for a fresh start. There, he was convinced by coach Deion Sanders to switch to an edge rushing position, and he thrived, becoming one of the best pass rushers in college football.

When the Detroit Lions drafted him, it was presumed that he would continue to play an edge rushing role, but when rookie minicamp arrived, he played almost exclusively at stack linebacker.

When organized team activities (OTAs) began, Houston saw his role expand, and he was not only taking reps at off-the-ball linebacker but also as a hybrid edge rusher (think, Julian Okwara-esque). By minicamp, Lions coaches realized they had put too much on the sixth-rounders plate and decided to scale him back for the final week of OTAs.

“James has done a great job, let me start by saying (that), because we swung him a little bit,” linebacker’s coach Kelvin Sheppard said on Monday. “Some days, like you alluded to, you’ll see him in stack-backer, other days, you’ll see him on the edge. So with James right now, we’re kind of in this dynamic and letting the player speak to us as well, but kind of carving out a distinct role... A player like James, his wires will start getting crossed, so that’s when it’s on us as coaches is simplifying his roles, kind of giving him an ideal role going into training camp, and we’ve kind of done that. And this week, we’ll finalize it with these last couple of days.”

Scaling back Houston’s responsibilities makes sense, as most rookies can get easily overwhelmed just learning one position. And when given the choice of which direction to go with Houston, they went back to what he does best: rushing the passer.

“He’s actually in our room a lot right now,” defensive line coach Todd Wash told the media on Monday. “He’ll play SAM in base and then he plays the rush position in sub (packages). This whole week, he’ll be in my room, this whole week. We’re trying to calm his world down a little bit, with the mental side of things, and let him really show his athleticism that we saw at Jackson State.”

Wash would go on to talk about how Houston’s traits fit the edge role, but once again, made a point to note that in order for him to find success, they needed to calm things down for him.

“He’s strong and physical,” Wash continued. “We see a lot of lean and bend with his pass rush. But at this point and time, once again, you don’t see it down-in and down-out, because he’s thinking. So, we really have to calm his world down, where he knows what he’s doing. He’s a really good athlete, and we’ll be able to see that now, by limiting him a little bit. We had him at three positions, and that was too much right away. So, we’ve calmed it down to two, and you’re starting to see the athleticism that we drafted.”

And now, onto the rest of today’s notes:

  • Lions wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El did his best to contain his excitement about the Lions’ offseason acquisitions at the position. But on Monday, he was caught off guard when he was told the Lions included his reaction to them drafting Jameson Williams in their wonderful “Inside the Den” video series:

  • Lions wide receiver DJ Chark took over programming control of the NFL Network on Tuesday night and made sure to get in some of his highlights, as well as two documentaries on Lions’ Hall of Famers:

  • DraftKings asked which were the strangest looking numbers on NFL jerseys and Lions’ running back Craig Reynolds didn’t appreciate catching strays online:

  • The Lions held their ninth OTA of the spring on Wednesday and posted pictures from the practice — remember, most veterans were sent home by coaches for this portion of the offseason so they could begin their summer breaks early:

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