As role grows, Lions’ Tabor vows to keep working

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Glued to the bench early in the season, Detroit Lions rookie cornerback Teez Tabor had finally managed to carve out a role down the stretch.

He played a season-high 44 snaps in Weeks 15 and 16, and with Nevin Lawson out with a concussion, appeared primed to see the field even more in the finale. But his day ended in the first quarter, when his arm was injured in a three-way collision with Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb and safety Quandre Diggs.

Cobb had slipped behind Tabor 30 yards downfield on a broken play, before Diggs came over the top, delivered a big hit, breaking up the potentially big gain. The safety was flagged for unnecessary roughness, his forearm making contact with Cobbs’ helmet, a violation of the league’s defenseless receiver rule. Worst yet, Diggs’ helmet connected flush with Tabor’s arm.

With his right arm in a sling Monday, Tabor would only say it wasn’t broken and shouldn’t keep him from participating in the team’s offseason program. And he certainly took no issue with the way he was injured.

“Oh no, I loved that hit,” Tabor said. “That’s how I want my middle-field safety to play. I want somebody, when (receivers) go across the middle, they’ve got to know. You know what I’m saying? He’s going to blast them. As a corner, you love that. You love your safety coming downhill because receivers, they don’t like that. I love the way he plays the game.”

Tabor, a second-round pick, figures to have a big role in Detroit’s secondary next season. Lawson and D.J. Hayden, the tandem who shared time opposite Darius Slay, are both scheduled to be free agents. And it’s possible, given the way he closed the year after a mid-season position change from nickelback, Diggs remains at safety.

The ultra-competitive Tabor struggled with not seeing the field much to start his career, but when he has stepped back and considered the bigger picture, he appreciates what the team was trying to accomplish.

“You don’t really see it at the time, but now that I’m looking back on it, it helped me tremendously,” he said. “Like, I can’t even explain, just sitting back and watching certain guys, how they play, how they go about their day, helped me.”

He’s been particularly focused on Slay, the Pro Bowler who led the NFL with eight interceptions. Even though they have different skill sets, Tabor is storing away every tendency he can from studying his teammate with the intention of applying it to his own game.

“Oh man, it’s crazy, he won’t even know some of the stuff I pick up from him, and he’ll probably never know,” Tabor said.

With his rookie year in the books, as frustrating as it may have been at times, Tabor anticipates coming back a better player, ready to snatch his opportunity in 2018.

“A lot of work has to be done,” he said. “This is something I live for, really. I love football. I couldn’t think about life about football. This offseason I’m going to put everything I have into the game.”