Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, the Detroit Lions deployed linebacker Jack Campbell in a brand new way. While the long-term plan is for Campbell to obviously hold down the MIKE linebacker spot and be a key hub to the entire defense, right now Detroit is getting such good play from Derrick Barnes that the Lions coaching staff is having to find creative ways to get Campbell involved.
While he has gotten a healthy 20+ defensive snaps in each game, Sunday was his biggest impact—and it came at a new position: edge defender. Of Campbell’s 38 defensive snaps, 26 of them came with him lined up as an on-ball edge defender—a role he wasn’t all too familiar with coming into the NFL.
“That’s something that obviously I haven’t got a lot of experience like on-the-ball backer, but right now I’m taking anything that’s been given to me,” Campbell said. “Whatever role I get, I’m going to own it to the best of my ability.”
Campbell’s first game as an edge setter and pass rusher went modestly well. He picked up his first career sack to spell the Falcons’ end-of-half hail mary attempt, but that was the only pressure he registered on 17 pass rushing snaps, per PFF. But a slow start is expected, as Campbell said coaches approached him with this new role just last week.
Playing a new position comes with additional benefits, too. As someone eventually headed for the all-important MIKE linebacker role, Campbell needs to know how the entire defense operates. Playing a new position on the edge now gives him a fresh perspective of how his teammates play and think.
“Honestly, it helps me learn the whole defense, because now that I’m playing a different position, I know what they’re feeling when I’m back in the middle,” Campbell said. “Honestly, it’s fantastic.”
Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the Lions’ overall defensive strategy on Sunday against the Falcons was wildly successful. Deploying more linebackers like Campbell on the field helped both bolster the team’s run defense—holding Bijan Robinson to 33 yards on 10 carries—and revitalize the pass rush, tallying seven sacks on the day.
Campbell has also been a regular feature on special teams, a perfect match for a high-effort player like him.
“Special teams is so fun because it’s literally just a mentality of just you, you’re lining up across from another guy and it’s who wants it more,” Campbell said. “Obviously, you’re playing at the professional level, you’re not going to win every rep, but at the same time, right now for me, I’m just trying to go out there and show the coaches at the Lions, and also the NFL and the fans, who they’re getting in a player. On the special teams unit, it’s full effort.”