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Jacksonville, Fla. -- Tahir Whitehead has been the starting strong-side linebacker almost the entire summer, but before the third and most important exhibition game, Lions coaches told Travis Lewis he’d be starting in Whitehead’s place.

Although he’s happy to see his 2012 draft mate playing well, Whitehead said he’s ready to embrace the challenge.

“You can’t get down on yourself,” Whitehead said after the Lions’ 22-17 win over the Jaguars Friday night. “You always look at it as a challenge. You either step up to the challenge, or you mope about it and you kick yourself in the butt. I’m all up for challenges.”

With DeAndre Levy out and Whitehead on the bench, Josh Bynes played on the weak side and Lewis on the strong side with the starting defense. Whitehead didn’t enter until the starters left in the third quarter, and he played through the end of the game.

Coach Jim Caldwell said his staff approaches each exhibition as an evaluation process, so the Lions wanted to move their linebackers in different spots. Whitehead played exclusively middle linebacker against the Jaguars after playing in the middle in substitute packages in the first two exhibition games, so the Lions are trying to work him at the spot he played last year when Stephen Tulloch suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Yet, when asked if Whitehead is still the starter, Caldwell was non-committal.

“We’ll make a determination as we go,” he said.

For Lewis, the chance to earn a starting job is a great opportunity after he played almost exclusively on special teams his first three years. He also missed the last 14 games last year with a quad injury, and his insertion into the starting lineup is a sign of how he’s battled back.

“It’s an open opportunity, and it’s all about production and playing well. So, we’ll see,” Lewis said. “They just told me this week I was starting at SAM, so you take it and you run with it and you try to take advantage of the opportunities.”

Lewis produced mixed results in his turn with the starters. He tied Tulloch with a team-high eight tackles, but had some miscues, including a missed tackled that resulted in a 12-yard gain on a reception by T.J. Yeldon and struggled in pass coverage.

Whitehead, though, said he’d been impressed with Lewis in the first two games. Meanwhile, Whitehead was unhappy with his play the past two weeks, so he understands why Lewis earned the call.

In Friday’s game, Whitehead had just one tackle, but added two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. He said he felt like he played more downhill, more disruptive and accomplished his goals for the evening.

And despite being a starter last season and for the offseason, Whitehead wasn’t upset about being in at the end of the game with the back-end roster players.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to make more plays,” he said.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein

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