Lions LB, ‘Hard Knocks’ favorite Malcolm Rodriguez taking first-team reps with defense

Many Detroit fans probably didn’t know much about linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez when the Lions selected him No. 188 overall in this year’s draft. But based on his gritty play and meteoric rise up the depth charts, they could need to learn his name sooner than expected.

Rodriguez, who was one of the more prominently featured Lions on this week’s episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Detroit Lions, got reps with the first-team defense at Wednesday’s joint practice with the Indianapolis Colts.

Linebacker is one of the positions on Detroit’s roster that is pretty much open.

Veterans Chris Board and Jarrad Davis joined the Lions this offseason as free agents, but despite having 11 years of experience between them, Rodriguez is the one garnering the most attention.

Rodriguez was a sixth-round draft pick for Detroit, but the 23-year-old’s ability to quickly pick up the playbook and his uncanny ability to assess and execute plays on the fly has turned heads at camp.

Linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard even pointed out on Hard Knocks how Rodriguez had been outplaying his teammates.

“Watch Rodriguez,” Sheppard said on Tuesday’s episode, via “(Expletive) sick of saying this about a rookie. What y’all want me to do, put him out there first? Because that’s what’s about to happen. This is nothing against you Rodriguez, you’re (expletive) playing your ass off dude, but it’s a rookie. I’m doing everything I can not to put him out there first. I’m sick of (expletive) saying it. He’s in the same (expletive) drills y’all were in.”

It appears Sheppard made good on his threat to put Rodriguez on the field with the first-team defense, a choice which demonstrates just how well Rodriguez has been playing so far this preseason, and could indicate that the rookie has a real shot to win the starting role.

“I mean if the coaches want me to start, I’ll start,” Rodriguez said after practice, via “It’s not a big deal. It’s just one of those things where I’ll step in that role and just be that vocal leader out here.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Rodriguez has won a starting role as an underdog. Coming out of high school as a relatively unknown prospect, he earned the starting linebacker role at Oklahoma State in his sophomore year. Rodriguez finished his college career with over 400 tackles, including 123 in his senior year, and was named the Defensive Player of the Game at the 2022 Fiesta Bowl in his final college game.

With his impressive play during training camp, Rodriguez has already started to make a name for himself in the Lions organization figuratively and literally, as head coach Dan Campbell gave him the nickname “Rodrigo,” which quickly took hold and could be heard being shouted by fans during the rookie’s presser Wednesday.

The Lions have two more preseason contests in which to figure out their depth chart before facing off against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. Whether Rodriguez will be taking the field with the starters when that day comes will be determined by his play through the rest of preseason, but is looking more and more likely by the day.

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