Allen Park — When the Detroit Lions drafted Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round of the NFL Draft, the reaction from the majority of fans, and even many in the media, was, "Who?"
Playing his home games six time zones away, in a conference outside the Power Five is a good way to fly under the radar. So even though Tavai's size and versatility are an ideal match for the defensive scheme run by the Lions, almost no one saw the pick coming, at least not that early.
But being an unknown commodity heading into his new situation isn't bothering Tavai. When asked if he had read any of the comments or articles about his selection, he referenced a poetically appropriate idiom, at least given the logo that will be on his helmet this season.
"No, I don't really care, worry about anything," Tavai said after Tuesday's OTA practice. "I think there's a quote, lions don't listen to the opinion of goats, or whatever. I'm just going to have that mindset and focus on what I can control."
The actual quote, from late philosopher Vernon Howard, stated, "A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep."
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford speaks about wife Kelly's condition after going through brain tumor surgery. The Detroit News
The Lions will happily take that mindset from the rookie, but will also be looking for physical toughness to match the mental toughness.
Tavai views himself as an interchangeable "puzzle piece" brought in to fit the defense wherever the coaches ask, whether it's down on the line as a physical edge setter and pass rusher, or off the ball as a powerful gap filler.
With just a handful of practices under his belt, he's enjoying the assimilation.
"This is a great environment," Tavai. "I love how the coaches make, not make us, but have a standard for being successful. I want to engrave that on my mindset and just come out here everyday and be a Lion."