‘I’ve got to learn’: Teez Tabor shows signs of meeting Lions’ high hopes
Allen Park — In an ideal world, a professional athlete's development would be both linear and on a definitive timeline. But neither of those things are true in reality.
Entering his third season, Teez Tabor is still trying to unlock the potential Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn saw when they used a second round pick on the Florida cornerback in 2017.
Through Detroit's early offseason practices, there have been both promising flashes of improvement and continued struggles that need to be ironed out before Tabor can take the step everyone has been anticipating.
During the team's first minicamp practice on Tuesday, he snagged an interception during red-zone work. It was a reminder of the playmaking ability he routinely showed while at Florida. But on Wednesday, he was badly beaten on a deep throw to wide receiver Chris Lacy, a second-year receiver who played just 35 snaps as a rookie last season.
After two seasons laced with disappointment, one thing Tabor doesn't struggle with is humility. When assessing his offseason performance to date, he focuses on the struggles, not the highlights.
"I ain’t doing too good right now," Tabor said. "There are a lot of things that I need to work on still and I’m glad the offense is giving me a great look out here so I can work on a lot of things."
Tabor was even more critical when asked if he was looking to take a bigger leadership role this season, especially in light of teammate Darius Slay's decision to skip these recent practices.
"I really just want to stay low because I really haven’t done anything yet," Tabor said. "I don’t really have any business talking yet. I don’t really know anything. I haven’t made any plays, so I don't need to be talking."
Tabor's position coach, Brian Stewart, said he's been looking to see more accountability and consistency out of the young cornerback this season. Accountability can mean a lot of things, but here's how Tabor views it.
"Basically, just do your job on every play at the highest ability you can," he said. "Come in, work hard, be disciplined, be coachable, play smart, play fast, play tough, play fundamentally sound. That’s basically accountability. As long as you do your job, everything will fall in line."
Tabor has a self-awareness beyond his years. Frequently praised for his football IQ by teammates and coaches since arriving in Detroit, he realized he was struggling to apply the things he was being taught on the field. That contributed to a disastrous performance in 2018, when he allowed a perfect passer rating on throws where he was targeted in coverage.
That's why he's placed a premium on being more malleable to the coaching he's receiving over the past year.
"I became more coachable," Tabor said. "I sat back and took it all in last year and thought I needed to become more coachable. Just listening what Coach (Stewart), Coach (Steve) Gregory, Coach Matty (Patricia) got to say. They all know exactly what they’re talking about. I’m the student, they’re the teacher. I’ve got to learn from them."
Tabor is also putting in an extra effort away from the team this offseason, working with personal trainer Troy Jones at Fit Speed, a gym owned by wide receiver Brandon Marshall. While there trying to get into peak physical shape, Tabor had the opportunity to work out with former receiver Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson, a great test for any young defensive back's technique.
One person pleased with Tabor's overall approach is Patricia.
"It really started after the season, he’s just done a great job of coming in and trying to learn the game, understand he has a lot to learn," Patricia said. "He’s still a young player, and he’s really attacked that from an aspect of going at it with a fresh set of eyes. On the field, I think he’s really trying to improve his technique, and he’s really trying to play patient.
"He’s just done everything that we’ve asked him to do, worked extremely hard, he’s studying the game, he’s in the meeting rooms, he’s asking great questions. ...That shows just a lot of growth from the mental side of it."
Tabor also still has the support of Quinn. At February's scouting combine, the general manager expressed hope that year three would be when things start to click for the former top prospect.
And even if that's a little later than hoped or expected, it would be great news for the Lions, who are still searching for the right option to pair with Slay. If Tabor can keep making plays through training camp, and reduced some of the bad plays, he'll be in that mix.