Detroit Lions rookie LB Jahlani Tavai opens camp with first-team defense

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai spent the first practice of Lions training camp Thursday working with the first-team defense, but the player he replaced isn't reading too much into the lineup shuffle.

"I mean, we’re just practicing right now," linebacker Christian Jones said. "It’s not like there’s a set depth chart for anything. Like I said, everybody’s getting the same amount of reps so we’re just out there practicing, just getting better."

Tavai, a second-round pick out of Hawaii, can play both inside and outside linebacker and the Lions expect him to be at least a rotational player on their defense last fall.

The Lions return Jones, Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard as starters, but have little depth at the linebacker position.

Jones, who worked some with the first-team defense Thursday, started all 16 games and made 69 tackles last season.

Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai walks to the fields before practice during training camp on Thursday, July 25, 2019, in Allen Park.

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"He’s a versatile guy," Jones said of Tavai. "He’s still learning, but he can do a lot of good things. So yeah, we’re just trying to put everything together. We’ve got a lot of pieces here. It’s just all about us being on the same page and being able to put what we learn out in the classroom out onto the field."

One of the Lions' top free-agent additions last spring, Jones, who got engaged this offseason, said he has just one goal for the 2019 season: Make the playoffs.

"That's all that matters to me," Jones said. "This is Year 6 for me and I just want us, we have the pieces here so I just want us to all put it all together and hopefully we can do something this year."

Lions linebacker Christian Jones goes through drills during practice during training camp on Thursday, July 25, 2019, in Allen Park.

Jones hasn't played on a winning team since his final season at Florida State, when he helped the Seminoles win the national title. The Lions went 6-10 last year, and Jones never won more than six games in his first four NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears.

He said he thinks the Lions have "a good shot" to make the playoffs this year because of their versatility on defense and young talent plus quarterback Matthew Stafford on offense.

"Like I said, the pieces are there," Jones said. "I don’t think we lack any talent, we just got to put it together. I don’t want to go out here and predict anything because this is Day 1 of training camp so we’re just going to keep working hard and see how it goes with that."

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Hill of beans

The Lions have installed a hill for conditioning at their practice facility in Allen Park.

The Lions built a small conditioning hill behind one of their outdoor practices fields this summer.

The hill isn't as nearly as big as the one that Patricia's old team, the New England Patriots, has on their grounds at Gillette Stadium, but it will serve a similar purpose.

"The hill or different training things that we try to do and improve on are always things we’ve researched that will help players and their training," Patricia said. "It could be anything from rehabilitation issues - or something that we use form that standpoint — conditioning, improving lower-body strength, lengthening run strides, protecting different muscle groups, and we use it in different capacities. Depending on the day it might be used in different facets. It’s just another piece of equipment for us to go out there and improve from a physical standpoint."

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The Lions placed defensive linemen Damon Harrison and Darius Kilgo and cornerback Darius Slay on the non-football injury list before practice Thursday. Harrison and Slay reported for camp Wednesday after staying away from the team all spring in a contract dispute. ... Defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson did not practice Thursday — and was not a spectator on the field during practice — for undisclosed reasons.

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