Jahlani Tavai got beat in coverage for the only touchdown the Detroit Lions allowed in their preseason-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills, but linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said that play does not overshadow the solid training camp Tavai has had overall.
“I think he’s in a really good position right now,” DeLeone said when asked what Tavai has to do to make the Lions’ 53-man roster this fall. “I think he’s had a really good camp. I think there was a play in the game, right, that’s been talked about. I think I got to do a better job putting him in a better position there on that play. So that’s probably as much on me as it is on him. But I think Jahlani is in a good place.”
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Tavai got beat on a play-action pass to running back Devin Singletary late in Friday’s first half, when he bit on a play fake to no one.
He owned up to his mistake Monday, which he attributed to “losing my eyes.”
“I just got to fix that,” he said. “Luckily it was a simple thing that I got to fix. I just got to get ready for Pittsburgh and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Tavai had an uneven first two seasons in Detroit, when the 2019 second-round pick made 16 starts while appearing in 31 of a possible 32 games.
He lost 20 pounds this offseason to better fit new coordinator Aaron Glenn’s defense, and enters the final two preseason games fighting for one of two or three backup inside linebacker jobs behind starters Alex Anzalone and Jamie Collins.
Rookie fourth-round pick Derrick Barnes is guaranteed one backup spot, and Shaun Dion Hamilton and Anthony Pittman are among others fighting for jobs.
Tavai played with the Lions’ second-team defense Friday, ahead of Barnes and with Hamilton, and finished with one tackle in 22 defensive snaps. He also played an expanded role on special teams, where the Lions are trying to ascertain what help he can provide.
“My goal is to be on defense,” Tavai said. “I want to be a starter, that’s the biggest thing. But I’m also going to make sure I’m good with Coach (Dave) Fipp on special teams. Whether I got to do everything, or whatever I got to do, basically, to make this squad.”
Lions coach Dan Campbell said he envisions Tavai as “a hammer” who can help the defense on first and second downs.
“He’s a smart guy. He works at it,” Campbell said. “There are things he can do and I think it’s up to us to put him in the best situation to have success, too. So, it’s twofold. He does everything you ask him to do and he gives it everything that he has got.”
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Tavai said he does not feel any added pressure to prove himself the next two weeks, though the reality is he is on the roster bubble for the first time in his career.
“I never take that approach where things are secure cause nothing is guaranteed in life,” Tavai said. “So every day I approached it like it’s my last day of ever playing football again. That pressure, I just treat it like a great competition. I love competition. If you’re not a competitor then I don’t know if sports are for you. So I don’t take anything for granted and I always make sure that every day, I treat it like my last day.”