Detroit Lions rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has been a sensation this offseason. A sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma State, Rodriguez has had a meteoric rise from minicamp until the end of the preseason.
At first, the Lions believed they had an immediate four-phase special teamer due to his tenacity and athleticism. But as training camp progressed, it became clear to the coaching staff that he was going to have to have a role on defense. Now as the Lions prepare for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, it appears Rodriguez is in line for much more than just a situational role.
“He’s going to play, I can tell you that,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said on Wednesday. “He’s going to play a pretty big role.”
Glenn would stop short of calling Rodriguez a starter for a couple of reasons. For one, he doesn’t give much meaning to who is out there for the very first snap. Who’s out there will likely depend on what formation the Eagles offense starts the game in. Additionally, Glenn made sure to point out that three other players—Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, and Chris Board—all stand to have significant roles on Sunday.
“Malcolm is a good player, but the thing is we other good players also,” Glenn said. “And all those guys deserve a chance to play. Barnes, Alex, Malcolm, Board. So I will tell you this: all those guys are going to be on the field, alright? At some point, some time, all of those guys are going to have a role. To me, you say ‘starting,’—all of those guys are going to play. It may be 20 plays a piece, it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter who’s out there first, at the end of the game, all of those guys are going to play what they deserve.”
Still, to have a sixth-round rookie play a major role in his first professional football game is a major accomplishment for Rodriguez. He’s made a huge impression in every step of the process. He was identified during minicamp by linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard as one of the smartest young players he’s ever been around. He was earning first-team reps halfway through training camp. He earned the defense’s third-highest PFF grade during the preseason. And now he is just days away from being a key part of the plan in stopping the Eagles' offense.