September 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

LaAdrian Waddle, Tahir Whitehead win battles for spots in Lions' starting lineup

LaArian Waddle, left: 'I'm honored that they have the confidence in me to put me in that position, and I'm just going to make the most of that opportunity.' (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park — LaAdrian Waddle said offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn pulled him into his office to tell him he earned the Lions’ starting right tackle job Monday.

Tahir Whitehead said linebackers coach Bill Sheridan simply told him in a meeting that he was the starting strong-side linebacker.

The assistant coaches’ methods were vastly different, but for the players, the information was much more important than how it was distributed because now they’re Week 1 starters for the first time in their NFL careers.

“I’m honored that they have the confidence in me to put me in that position, and I’m just going to make the most of that opportunity,” said Waddle, who started eight games at right tackle as a rookie in 2013 but only after two injuries.

“It felt great, but I’m pretty low-key,” said Whitehead, who didn’t play a defensive snap his first two seasons. “I’m down to earth. He gave me the information, and I’m like, ‘OK, thank you.’”

Neither player has much time to be excited because the Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants will arrive in a hurry.

Elsewhere on the depth chart, defensive tackle Nick Fairley was listed as a starter, earning the job back after being demoted behind C.J. Mosley.

At right tackle, Waddle entered camp as the favorite after playing well in eight starts as an undrafted rookie in 2013. His top competitor was Corey Hilliard, who’s entering his eighth NFL season and spent two years with coach Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis (2007-08). Hilliard started seven games last year, but Jason Fox, who’s with Miami now, won the starting job out of camp.

Waddle and Hilliard both struggled at times in camp, particularly in one-on-one drills.

“I definitely think I’ve made some strides, especially the last couple weeks, just working on my technique and whatnot,” Waddle said. “I’m going to just keep working on that and keep improving and just go out there and prove that they made the right choice.”

At strong-side linebacker, the Lions expected second-round pick Kyle Van Noy to be an opening day starter, but his transition was slower than the team hoped, and he’ll miss the start of the season after undergoing core muscle surgery.

That left Palmer, last year’s starter, and Whitehead, who Caldwell said was playing like one of the team’s three best linebackers a couple weeks ago.

Whitehead said the Lions drafting Van Noy didn’t change his approach because he’s “self-motivated.” Instead, he just focused on improving every day, as cliché as that might sound.

“That’s what I was taught in high school, that’s what I was taught in college, and it’s paved the way for me,” he said. “So I’ve never really got away from that because it always helped me.”

The return depth chart is also notable. Jeremy Ross is the starter on punts and kickoffs, but Golden Tate is his backup on punts and Ryan Broyles is the third option. On kickoffs, Theo Riddick is the second player listed.

Punter Sam Martin, as expected, will handle kickoff duties instead of field-goal kicker Nate Freese.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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