Rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes could be in line for an expanded role when the Detroit Lions visit the Denver Broncos this week.
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Thursday that Barnes and linebacker Josh Woods will play in tandem as part of the team’s linebacker rotation Sunday.
Alex Anzalone has played all but four defensive snaps this season, leaving to briefly tend to an injury against the Los Angeles Rams, while the Lions have deployed a revolving cast of complements by his side at linebacker.
Jamie Collins opened the season as starter, but was released in late September to open playing time for younger players at the position. Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin split playing time the next nine games, and Josh Woods took Reeves-Maybin’s spot in the rotation for last week’s win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Typically, Barnes plays the traditional middle linebacker role while on the field, with Anzalone as the weak-side linebacker, and Reeves-Maybin plays as weak-side linebacker with Anzalone in the middle of the field.
Anzalone leads the Lions with 78 tackles, but has an NFL-high 15 missed tackles according to Pro Football Reference.
“That’s the good thing about all three of them, is they can play any spot,” Glenn said. “That’s why we have that rotation with those guys. You’ll see Woods and Barnes in a rotation this week, with those guys playing with Alex out. That’s just how we rotate those guys. And plus, being out there in Denver, we all know the altitude and all that different stuff. We just got to make sure that we’re on point.”
Woods outsnapped Barnes, 43-35, last week against the Vikings, while Anzalone was on the field for all 76 defensive plays.
Glenn said that is not a reflection of the Lions losing any faith in Barnes, a fourth-round pick out of Purdue.
“The thing that we want to make sure that we do is make sure that we, between the young guys that we do have, is give all those guys an opportunity,” Glenn said. “Obviously, when Reeves-Maybin’s here, Derrick gets his chance, but man, bringing Josh Woods here, he deserves a chance to play, too. You look at what he’s doing on special teams. He comes in, in the middle of the season, man, he’s our top special teams player. So why not give him a chance on defense, too?
“Regardless who we got, if you show that you can help us at all on defense, you’re going to get a chance to play. So we’re not just going to let this player just sit on the sideline and not get a chance to play just because Derrick was a draft pick. You earn your keep around here.”
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Woods, who ranks second on the team with seven special teams tackles behind Reeves-Maybin (10), had a career-high eight defensive stops against the Vikings.
Glenn said Barnes will wear the defensive head set when he and Woods are on the field.
Asked if he still sees Barnes as a three-down linebacker, Glenn said, “I expect Derrick to be a really good player for us. So whatever capacity that is, he’s going to be a good player for us.”