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Roundtable: When Will Malcolm Rodriguez Start in NFL?

The latest AllLions Roundtable focuses on when Detroit Lions linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez will make his first NFL start.
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1.) How impressed are you with DJ Chark? 

Vito Chirco: Chark has looked as good as advertised thus far in training camp. He provides the Lions with a vertical threat that wasn't existent in Detroit's passing game last season. I'm excited to see the chemistry that Lions starting signal-caller Jared Goff and him will continue to develop as camp progresses and the regular season draws closer. 

John Maakaron: The Lions are using the talented wideout in vastly different ways than the Jaguars did. He told reporters following practice on Saturday, "It’s just different offenses asking me to do different things. And this offense that I’m in currently asks me to do things. Like, I’m lining up on both sides of the field. I’m not necessarily always in the boundary. Sometimes, it’s the (No. 3 receiver) on the outside. A lot of times, I’m lining up at one, sometimes two. But here, I’m lined up one, two or three. Things like that, and just different concepts that they’re asking me to do that I just haven’t really done since maybe my second year in the league. ... It’s a lot of nuances in the playbook that’s allowing me to move around.”

2.) Are you concerned about the defense giving up deep passes at a high rate lately?

Chirco: Yes. And, it's because of the fact that the secondary wasn't very good a season ago, either. Also, it's been concerning that Amani Oruwariye has yet to look as sharp as he did last year. Plus, Jeff Okudah has continued to look miles and miles behind where he should be at this juncture in his career. Detroit's defensive backs unit, as it's presently structured, is a big concern for me. 

Maakaron: I was surprised that Amani Oruwariye did not have a good practice on Friday. The defense has given up the deep ball at a little bit higher rate than I would have thought. But, the defense is still trying out different rotations and Ifeatu Melifonwu, Will Harris have changed positions. I would expect some improvements in coverage the next couple of weeks. But, the play of the secondary is something to monitor. 

3.) Who has been a surprise player in training camp?

Chirco: I'm going to go with Trinity Benson. He's likely battling for the last spot on the team's receivers depth chart, and so far, he's impressed, beating defenders deep multiple times with his sub-4.4 speed. He'll need to continue his great effort, in order to make the Lions' 53-man roster out of training camp. 

Maakaron: Besides those you would expect to play well, Kalif Raymond has been a consistent performer daily. He is quite fast and he brings it each practice. While he may not make all of the headlines, his play on the field is being noticed by the quarterbacks, who target him regularly each practice. 

4.) Austin Bryant has been making noise on defense. What are you expecting out of him in 2022?

Chirco: Well, I don't want to get my hopes up just yet regarding Bryant. And, it's because of the fact that he's never been able to stay healthy throughout his NFL career. The fourth-year pro has never played in more than 14 games in a regular season. And, while I respect the numbers he produced a season ago, it was the first year, of his time in the NFL, in which he logged a single sack. He went on to record a career-best 4.5 sacks, to go along with 31 total tackles, five tackles for loss and six QB hits in 14 games (five starts) in 2021. It'll be interesting to see if he can carry over that positive play into the preseason and then into the regular season this year. 

I expect Bryant to be a quality reserve EDGE for the Lions in 2022, with him suiting up for 12 games and recording at least 2.5 sacks. 

Maakaron: I think Bryant is a player that had a lot to prove entering training camp. The team keeps loading up at his position, but he keeps battling and finding ways to make plays. Head coach Dan Campbell noted Bryant stood out on film when he first got to Detroit. If he can take steps forward in 2022, the defensive line can meet all of their goals at a faster pace. 

5.) When will Malcolm Rodriguez start in the NFL? 

Chirco: I think there will be a point this season during which Alex Anzalone will prove he's not a starting-caliber NFL linebacker, while second-year pro Derrick Barnes will prove that he's not deserving of an ample amount of playing time. When that time comes, I expect Rodriguez to emerge on to the scene and to take on a starting role. My prediction is that the aforementioned scenario will occur leading into the Lions' Week 7 contest with the Dallas Cowboys, a week after Detroit's bye. 

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Maakaron: I think Rodriguez is a player who can play a very important role in Aaron Glenn's defense. Despite all of the hype surrounding him, he is still a rookie. I think he will play meaningful snaps this season, but will not have an opportunity to start until 2023. Alex Anzalone is the quarterback of the defense and Chris Board, Derrick Barnes should remain ahead of him on the depth chart all season.