Allen Park — Tahir Whitehead has already defied the odds, so being asked to change positions, to clear the way for a rookie, it’s just something the Detroit Lions veteran linebacker takes in stride.
Adjust, adapt, keep fighting.
“It’s the National Football League, you have to go out and prove yourself every year,” Whitehead said. “I’ve always been an underdog, so I’m never going to stop viewing myself as such. It’s that fire under me, it gives me that motivation that someone is always chasing me, pushing me to get my job.
“At the end of the day, I look at the man in the mirror and say, “It’s you against you. Go out there and make things happen.”
A fifth-round pick out of Temple, Whitehead toiled away on special teams his first two seasons, before opportunity finally knocked. Injuries to Kyle Van Noy and Stephen Tulloch paved the way to playing time, and Whitehead’s success earned him a new two-year, $8 million deal last offseason.
But after the Lions struggled to get the production they needed from the linebacking unit in 2016, the team focused on making upgrades, including the selection of Florida’s Jarrad Davis in the first round.
Davis is slated to start at middle linebacker as a rookie, the spot Whitehead manned last year. He’s been bumped to the outside, where he’s played before and is prepared to play again.
“You go through an adjustment period, but at the end of the day, I know all the (linebacking positions),” Whitehead said. “I’ve played them all, so being able to change positions is not really that big of a deal.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Whitehead’s speed make him a good fit on the weak side. That’s where DeAndre Levy used to roam, before injuries sapped his effectiveness and he was released this offseason.
Whitehead said the only real difference between playing on the weak side compared to the middle is the angle you see the field and having to play off the actions of different teammates. What goes unsaid is he’ll also have less responsibility with Davis taking over the headset and making the defensive calls. That will let Whitehead focus on his job, not getting the entire defense lined up.
Whitehead expects the adjustment to be smooth and is counting on taking advantage of a position he feels opponents sometimes ignore.
“It really frees you up,” Whitehead said. “They don’t always account for the Will linebacker in the NFL. You see the Will run through and make plays from them just not accounting for him."