Man in the middle: Jarrad Davis' setback lays path for Lions rookie Jahlani Tavai
Detroit — The Lions didn't have an immediate update on injured linebacker Jarrad Davis following Friday's preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills, but the leg injury didn't look good and teammates were already bracing for the worst-case scenario after the game.
"We have a linebacker room that’s very capable, and very talented guys in our room," linebacker Devon Kennard said. "I think we’re all leaders. It hurts to have him out. I don’t know how long it’s going to be, but any amount of time — I’m hurting for him, just seeing my brother go down like that. It’s next man up. We’re all going to step up and fill that void."
And that was the key message coming out of the locker room — whether Davis' injury ends up being a season-ender or not, the expectations for the defense don't change.
"I don’t think it changes anything," Kennard said. "I think we have guys that are very capable in the linebacker room. It’s the NFL. It’s the next-man-up mentality. That’s how it has to be. Our goals, our objectives, our plans — nothing can change."
Injuries are part of football. And while they're will be a lot of hand-wringing about whether Davis' injury could have been prevented had the team rested all their key starters for the remainder of the preseason, the fact of the matter is it just as easily could have happened on the practice field.
But when the bug bites, Lions coach Matt Patricia doesn't want it to be an excuse.
"Injuries are part of the game and that’s something that we all have to deal with," he said. "That’s certainly the biggest part of what we’re trying to do — is what we’re trying to build. I think for us to understand to build a team that finds a way to be competitive no matter what happens. Football is a different sport. It takes everybody out on the field, it’s not one person."
If Davis is out for an extended period of time — or worse, the season — the Lions are going to need other players to step up and fill the hole. While Kennard, Christian Jones and preseason standout Jalen Reeves-Maybin will all be part of the equation, the leading candidate to plug into Davis' spot in the middle of the defense is rookie Jahlani Tavai.
"He's a great player, a great teammate, but like I said, injuries happen," Tavai said. "You can't predict anything. It's on the rest of us to make sure we don't take that step back. We have to keep striving to be a perfect unit.
"You always have to be up to any challenge. I'm going to make sure that we stay calm and collected as a unit so we can just play ball."
Still, that's a big task for the first-year player coming out of Hawaii, but he's been a quick study and has experience playing the middle linebacker position in college. That should help him with the added communication responsibilities that come with the job.
"He’s one of those college kids that’s had a bunch of different coordinators, a bunch of different schemes, a bunch of different positions, and honestly, he was able to talk about all of them at a high level," Patricia said. "You knew the football part of it was pretty good — the football off the field, the study and the things like that were excellent.
"We still have a long way to go from some NFL awareness and recognition — and plays like that are still new to him from the game. I would say though, his fundamental points that we saw, that we thought he could handle, he’s done a good job with those so far. I think as far as the rest of the defense, there are a lot of other really good players out there who are helping, so I don’t really feel like anything is on his shoulders, from that standpoint. I think he just has to go out there and try to do his job to the best of his ability and we’ll just evaluate that."