New Lions LB Devon Kennard once raced Emmitt Smith -- and beat him

When Devon Kennard was a kid, one of the only football memories he had from his father was at the peak of his now-chosen profession. His father, Derek, was an offensive lineman on the Dallas Cowboys. And dad and his team had just won Super Bowl XXX against Pittsburgh.

So Devon, then 4 years old, ended up on the field after the game. And ended up on his dad's shoulders. Those are the majority of the memories of being the son of an NFL player growing up for the new Detroit Lions linebacker, who signed a three-year deal Thursday.

“For me, for the most part, my dad was just dad,” Kennard said on a teleconference.

It was dad, though, who allowed him to have some pretty cool experiences growing up. Like racing Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith in Cowboys Stadium – something he doesn’t remember a ton about other than he was there, racing Emmitt Smith, and that “he let me win, so that was cool.”

Cooler for his adult self is what he’s up to now – nabbing a multi-year second NFL contract, being put in a place where he believes he’ll be able to contribute. Even if he admitted he wasn’t sure where he’d fit in the defense or how the Lions plan to use him.

Instead, he based his decision off team interest and opportunity – something Detroit has plenty of at linebacker. The Lions entered free agency with four linebackers on the roster: Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis, second-year pro Jalen Reeves-Maybin and two core special-teams players, Steve Longa and Nick Bellore.

So the chance to play -- and start -- were major draws for Kennard, who has shown promise as a pass-rusher.

“You want an opportunity to play and show what you’re capable of doing and be in a good situation and with a team that has some potential,” Kennard said. “So you kind of look at all of that and it’s a combination of everything.”

He also fills a need for the Lions as an edge blitzer, calling the best play in football “a sack-caused fumble.” The 26-year-old has 9.5 career sacks, including four last season, and three forced fumbles. For this to be a successful signing for the Lions, he’s going to have to provide more than that over the next three seasons, particularly since one of the Lions’ glaring holes has been being able to provide a sustainable pass rush outside Ezekiel Ansah.

Kennard is expected to be part of that solution, although it’s a solution without many true answers as of now.

Like many of the other football-related questions Kennard was asked Thursday, he wasn’t sure what to expect. And that including not knowing a good answer for a pressing question about the guy he once beat in a race and a decades-old debate of who was better: Smith or Barry Sanders. Kennard didn’t know the answer, but he did know the right thing to say considering who is signing his paycheck now.

“I’m a Detroit Lion,” Kennard said. “So I’m going to have to go Barry, I guess. I’m not sure.”