This Detroit Lions LB is learning the little things from vets after splashy rookie year

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai is listening to and watching his new teammates as he tries to make a leap in his second year.

The Lions added veteran linebackers Jamie Collins and Reggie Ragland this offseason, and Tavai is picking up on the little things they do that make a big difference.

“They bring that wisdom,” Tavai said, “that us younger guys — second year, rookie like Julian (Okwara) —like they bring that wisdom we need just so we can pick up those little things where we can see the bigger picture when we’re on the field.

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“So it’s pretty exciting getting to see their energy throughout training camp. Reggie’s a standout guy. He’ll make plays and just joke about it. When you just see the way he moves, him and Jamie as well, when you see the way they move, they don’t waste any movement. I try to make sure I adapt to how they do that.”

Tavai had a promising rookie season, when he earned enough trust to become a regular part of the linebacker rotation and even relayed the defensive signals. He had a couple of memorable plays, including picking off a Jameis Winston pass in December and forcing a goal-line fumble against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.

But like most of the Lions’ linebackers, he wasn’t especially effective in pass coverage and was part of a unit that struggled against the run.

That’s why Tavai considers smart, experienced teammates invaluable. He called Collins “a huge asset.”

“My biggest thing last year was I had a lot of wasted movement and that caused me to miss out on plays,” he said. “Like just watching the way Jamie plays, if he don’t have to step, he doesn’t step. The ball just somehow tracks to him.

“That’s just something that I want to adapt to and just get my eyes right so that I can become that kind of player.”

It’s all part of the preparation Tavai has taken seriously this year as he returns from a season-ending shoulder injury. He wouldn’t say whether he’s 100% healed, but he’s been doing as much watching, listening and studying to make improvements, and maybe more plays, in his second season.

“I’m not going to stand here and say I’m comfortable,” Tavai said. “You never should feel comfortable. You’ve got to play like everything’s on the edge. But so far just (to) be able to play everywhere like I did last year. I played on the edge, I played inside.

“Know the defense, that’s the biggest thing I wanted to make sure I focused on this year. I made sure to set that goal and so far learning the installs have been great, especially having our linebacker group. I’m really glad we have coach Ty (McKenzie) and the rest of the linebacker corps.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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