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Caldwell: Whitehead remains ‘big part’ of Lions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It’s become clear, rather quickly, the Detroit Lions intend to play Jarrad Davis at middle linebacker. That means Tahir Whitehead, last year’s starter, will be bounced outside, a position he played both in college and earlier in his professional career.

Being displaced by a rookie can be a difficult situation for a veteran, but coach Jim Caldwell makes a preemptive effort to prevent those changes from developing into festering issues.

“The way you do it is the way you do everything, at least as far as I’m concerned — you talk about it,” Caldwell said. “It’s an upfront issue. It’s not anything that’s hidden. They understand the parameters. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be an integral part of our program.”

This is the second consecutive year the Lions will move an established veteran to a different position to make way for their first-round pick. Last season, Taylor Decker was immediately plugged in as the starting left tackle, while Riley Reiff, a five-year veteran, was moved to the less prestigious right tackle spot.

There was never any indication Reiff resisted the change, and it didn’t prevent him from scoring a massive, long-term deal as a free agent this offseason.

“Riley moved to the right side and obviously played for us and played well and Tahir is still going to be a big part of what we do,” Caldwell said. “He just might be at a little bit different position at this time. But I think most of the guys in this league understand. They’re less concerned about being territorial than they are about winning. If it helps us win I think you’ll find that most players certainly can understand.”

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During his five years with the Lions, Whitehead has never shown a reluctance to do what his coaches feel is best for the team. A former fifth-round pick, it took him three seasons to earn a permanent role in the defense. The past three years, he’s bounced between inside and outside linebacker, playing whether the team needed him.

Whitehead led the Lions in tackles last season, tallying 132 stops in 15 games.

He was present for Wednesday’s OTA session, but didn’t practice. Davis took the first-team reps at middle linebacker with free-agent addition Paul Worrilow manning the other starting spot in the team’s nickel package, it’s primary defensive setup.