As the Detroit Lions kicked off training camp on Wednesday morning, a few things carried over from OTAs and minicamp.
First, as mentioned repeatedly, the vibe in Allen Park is contagious among the players, the coaching staff, and the Lions’ front office. If you don’t believe it, all you had to do was look at Brad Holmes. Decked out in Honolulu Blue from head to toe, the Lions’ general manager had a smiled as bright as Wednesday’s hot sun.
Secondly, Dan Campbell was Dan Campbell.
He was intense, sometimes emotional, and had several thought-provoking quotes.
Lastly, and most pertinent to the Detroit Lions’ success, several players showcased promising traits on the practice field. And the great thing about it is that it wasn’t from the “usual” suspects.
Here are three players I observed today on the first day of Lions’ training camp.
Jahlani Tavai appears to be even slimmer since minicamp.
Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Jahlani Tavai the 80th-best linebacker in the NFL. In layman’s terms, he was one of the worst in the league at his position.
Now it’s fair to put some of that blame on Matt Patricia. It’s no secret that the Detroit Lions’ defense last season was horrendous. And it was Patricia’s fault. Despite that, a large part of Tavai’s struggles stemmed from him being well, large.
When the Lions drafted Tavai in 2019, he hovered around 245-250 pounds. However, he ballooned last season to near 270 pounds. And it’s safe to surmise it affected his play. He was pretty slow, missed tackles, and was a significant liability in coverage.
Nevertheless, that was last season.
During this year’s OTAs and minicamps, Tavai appeared to be noticeably slimmer. He mentioned that he got his weight down to 247 pounds and credited a new dieting plan, one that saw him replace bad evening meals with peanuts. Despite dropping over 20 pounds, Tavai said he wanted to lose more by training camp.
And it appears he might have.
Not only did Tavai appear to be slimmer, but he also moved quicker than I’ve ever seen him. Along with that, he appeared to be more comfortable moving around in pass coverage.
If Lions’ inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone cracked the “Davinci Code” and can get at least decent play out of Tavai, the Lions will be in great shape moving to the 3-4.
Jermar Jefferson could get his number called pretty early.
During the Lions’ practice today, I witnessed that their running backs will be a significant part of the offense.
D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams both looked great Wednesday morning. However, in the light practice, Jermar Jefferson is one who caught my eye.
The Lions were not in pads today. So, yeah, it’s easy to say so many things look good without pressure. Regardless, Jefferson’s speed, hands, and elusiveness were on display. There was one pass in particular he caught that made me go, “Oh!”
After he made the catch, he stopped on a dime, made a rapid cut, and then took off. With Jared Goff carrying a reputation of being great with the play-action pass, the rookie running back could be a key player in Anthony Lynn’s offense.
He’s a guy to keep your eyes on. NFL.com projected Jefferson to be a 5th round selection.
And the Lions stole him in the 7th. While Lions fans salivate at the potential of the D’Andre Swift-Jamaal Williams backfield, don’t sleep on the young rook.
What are the Detroit Lions going to do with Jason Cabinda?
At Penn State, Jason Cabinda was a Third-Team All-Big Ten linebacker.
On the Detroit Lions, he is a fullback that could become a whole problem. For starters, at 6’1, 243 pounds, he looks incredibly intimidating. Most football players are in shape to a degree, but his 28-inch pythons are on display like former wrestler Scott Steiner.
Cabinda looks fast, elusive, and intimidating from OTAs and minicamps through Wednesday morning, whether he’s running or catching passes.
I have no idea how Lions’ offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn will use him, but I’m anxious to see. He does look like a work in progress still, however.
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