How RB Jermar Jefferson became one of Detroit Lions’ most-improved players

How RB Jermar Jefferson became one of Detroit Lions’ most-improved players

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ALLEN PARK — Rookie seasons are just so hard in the NFL. The draft circuit is longer and more grueling than ever. Then there are rookie minicamps, which bleed right into offseason programs, all of which leads into a season that is more than a month longer than anything almost anyone has seen in college.

Given all that, and the experience acquired along the way, it’s no surprise players usually make their biggest strides from Year 1 to Year 2.

All of which leads to an interesting question: Which second-year Detroit Lions player is making the biggest leap?

Glad you asked.

“Two guys (drafted) last year that I think really made some of the biggest progress to this point are Barnes and Jefferson,” head coach Dan Campbell said this week.

Derrick Barnes is a former fifth-round pick who is now playing mostly with the first-team defense. He certainly seems like he’s headed for a bigger role this season, so it’s no surprise to hear the coaches are pleased with his progress.

Jefferson, on the other hand, has always had the physical ability to play running back. But the mental side of the game was difficult for him as a rookie. He struggled with the playbook. He missed assignments. As Campbell said, he was “a little bit of deer in the headlights.”

He averaged a very respectable 4.9 yards when he did get to carry the football, and even scored in back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but also got only 15 carries all season because he hadn’t yet earned the coaches’ trust. . For a guy who never carried the football less than 18 times in a game In his final season as a workhorse at Oregon State, it was just a tough, trying rookie season.

One day, he asked receiver Kalif Raymond how he handled the mental side of the NFL.

“Last year was tough, so I asked Kalif, ‘How do you keep your energy and keep your sanity throughout the whole season?’” Jefferson told MLive after a practice this week. “He was just like, ‘Man, I started meditating.’ He told me it saved his life — that it saved his career — and I was like, man, I need to start meditating.”

So Jefferson went home to Los Angeles for the offseason, and asked his yoga teacher about meditation. It has now become a staple of his life, and he likes to get in about 10 minutes before most practices too, trying to quiet his mind and get right before stepping onto the field.

“I usually just go on Youtube and look up meditation music, sit there, take some deep breaths, and I’ll be relaxed and ready to go (for practice),” Jefferson said. “Yoga does help, hot yoga too. I feel like that helps a lot with stability and muscle strength and things like that. But yeah, man. I feel good. It’s helping a lot.”

It seems so. Jefferson remains firmly behind D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams in a running back rotation that returns everybody, but he’s made headway in the competition for a backup job. Just the other day, he ripped the defense for one of his best plays as a pro, catching a pass and then breaking three tackles en route to a 50-yard touchdown.

“I saw the corner coming low, so I had to make a move, stiff-arm, do something,” Jefferson said. “After that, it was off to the races.”

Where Jefferson has made the most improvement is on special teams, which has really pleased the team. Backup running backs have to be able to contribute in the third phase, but because Jefferson was such a workhorse at Oregon State, he never got much experience there, and his development was slow last season.

There’s nothing slow about his development now.

How RB Jermar Jefferson became one of Detroit Lions’ most-improved players

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