Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai looks forward to learning from 'huge asset' Jamie Collins
As a rookie, the Detroit Lions experimented with the versatility of rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai. He spent time on the line of scrimmage, and when he lined up off the ball, he got snaps as both an inside and outside linebacker.
In terms of production, the season went about as you might expect for a high-round draft pick. There was plenty of inconsistency to his game, but you saw enough flashes to understand why the Lions grabbed him in the second round, paired with steady improvement throughout his first year.
This offseason, the Lions signed another versatile linebacker in Jamie Collins, one familiar with the team's defensive system. That addition figures not only to fill some production gaps for the team, but also provide Tavai a mentor as he continues to develop.
Thus far, Tavai's biggest takeaway from working with Collins is the need to be more efficient.
"He's been a huge asset, you know?" Tavai said. "My biggest thing last year was I had a lot of wasted movement. That caused me to miss out on plays. Just watching the way Jamie plays — if he doesn't have to step, he doesn't step — and everything, just, the ball somehow tracks to him. That's just something I want to adapt to and get my eyes right so I can become that kind of player."
Collins has unquestionably been a turnover machine during his seven seasons. He's tallied 10 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles since coming into the league. And Tavai has that ability, too.
He showed that during training camp last year, jumping a passing lane and picking off Matthew Stafford in practice. And during the regular season, he did the same thing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also forced a fumble, punching the ball free at the goal line in the team's Week 2 victory over the Chargers.
Tavai unfortunately injured his shoulder late in the season and the rehab extended well into the offseason. Still, he's shown no signs of that problem lingering into this year's training camp, allowing his to push himself toward taking that next step.
"I'm not going to stand here and say I'm comfortable," Tavai said. "You never should feel comfortable. You have to play like everything's on the (line), but so far, just playing everywhere like last year — playing on the edge, playing inside, knowing the defense. That's the biggest thing I wanted to focus on this year, and I made sure to set that goal."
Tavai and Collins both figure to play important roles in a reworked linebacking corps, which brings back Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, but also added veterans Reggie Ragland and Elijah Lee to the mix.
The group's performance fell short of expectations in 2019, but Tavai has high hopes for the current collective.
"Our expectation is excellence," he said. "We want to be the best linebacker group in the league. And having those vets — Jamie has played in this defense his whole career, then you have Reggie who is coming off a great season — they bring that wisdom that us younger guys — second year, rookie like Julian (Okwara) — they bring that wisdom we need to see the bigger picture when we're on the field. It's pretty exciting getting to see their energy throughout training camp."