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Lions LB coach says first-rounder Jack Campbell no lock to start in rookie season

The Detroit Lions drafted Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell No. 18 overall, viewing him as a ready-to-play rookie who could immediately bolster the middle of the defense.

Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard noted Monday as the club wraps up offseason workouts that the assumption Campbell will walk into the Week 1 starting gig is wrong-headed.

"It's proven here," Sheppard said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "I know it's like the right thing to say, but it is proven. We are going to play the best players. We do not care what that looks like, and when that starts top down, it's easy for me to walk into my linebacker room after we take a guy Pick 18, because in probably 20 other rooms, that player's starting, and there's nothing you can do about it as a position coach.

"Well, that's not the case here. If Jack isn't the top two or three, Jack will continue to go through the process of rookie development until he's hit that mark."

Sheppard cited Malcolm Rodriguez, last year's sixth-round pick, earning the starting gig during training camp and preseason last year as proof the best players will play.

With Rodriguez nursing a leg injury through OTAs, veterans Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes have been getting the starting reps. Sheppard said the best two linebackers would earn the reps when the season commences.

"Whoever those two guys are, if that's Derrick and (Jalen Reeves-Maybin), if that's Anzo and Malcolm. Whatever that looks like, no one can sit here and honestly tell me 365 days ago that you all thought, or myself thought, Malcolm would take the opening snaps," Sheppard said. "So that's why it's hard for me to speak on what it might be, what it will be. We haven't even put pads on yet and the position I coach, it all starts there."

Let's cut through the headline here: It's the middle of June. Whether or not Campbell will start isn't close to being decided.

It's old hat for coaches to soft-pedal expectations for rookies early in the process. We'll get a better idea of where Campbell truly stands once we get deeper into training camp.

The Lions turned heads with their first-round picks, including taking Campbell when no other off-ball linebacker went in the first two rounds. But the thought process from the front office was transparent: Snag players who could immediately aid a roster on an upward swing. Campbell will have his shot to prove he deserves a starting spot once the hitting commences in training camp and the Lions face foes in the preseason.

Ahead of that, it's all just offseason noise.

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