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Lions giving Tavon Wilson crack at starting safety job

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Tavon Wilson signed with the Detroit Lions looking for more opportunity. After working with the first-string defense during the lead up to the team's third exhibition game — otherwise considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season — it appears the veteran safety is still in the mix to win the vacant starting safety job.

A former second-round draft pick, Wilson never carved out a big defensive role during his four seasons with the New England Patriots. Still, Lions general manager Bob Quinn, who joined the Lions after 16 years in New England, saw enough in Wilson to offer him a two-year deal in free agency this offseason.

During a June interview with NFL Radio, Quinn listed Wilson as one of four players in the mix to start opposite Glover Quin. But until Sunday, that spot had largely been manned by Rafael Bush, another of the team's free agent additions from the offseason. On Sunday, Wilson did everything he could to downplay the noticeable bump up the depth chart.

"It really doesn't mean much," he said. "It's just a position and you've got to go out and take advantage of your opportunities. I wouldn't put too much into it right now. It's still preseason, training camp."

Wilson made a nice play during the seven-on-seven portion of practice, stepping in front of a Matthew Stafford pass in the red zone. Unfortunately for the safety, he wasn't able to finish off what should have been an interception.

"Yeah, I was pretty close," he said with a smile. "I dropped it. I've got to work on my hands, man."

Wilson played just 13 snaps in the preseason opener. That jumped to 25 in the second contest, a 30-14 loss against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he recorded three tackles. Coach Jim Caldwell praised the veteran's dedication to his craft.

"He’s been around, more special teams than anything else, but he’s also a very, very willing worker," Caldwell said. "He’s one of those guys that you see him after practice is over, he’s in there watching film, extra film, doing all the little things to try to make certain that he’s in the right place at the right time, just in terms of the instruction that he’s receiving. But he’s also one of those guys that, you know, he’s a pretty fiery competitor. (He) tackles hard and well and sets a real good tone out there."

Caldwell said the competition to start next to Quin remains open with the regular season fast approaching.

"We haven’t made any cuts, we’re not down to our final numbers,' Caldwell said. "There’s opportunity out there."

Bush and Wilson have appeared to put some distance between the other players originally in the mix for the job, rookie Miles Killebrew and second-year man Isaiah Johnson. The picture should become clearer when the Lions travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Saturday.

Twitter: @justin_rogers