Detroit Lions training camp observations: Jahlani Tavai picks off Matthew Stafford

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Maybe Bob Quinn knows a little more than the rest of us about the NFL draft.

Quinn sent Detroit Lions nation into a bit of a tizzy when he spent a second-round pick on Jahlani Tavai this spring, but five practices into training camp I'd call Tavai one of the more pleasant surprises of summer.

Tavai is definitely still a work in progress, but he's taken first-team reps at linebacker every day of camp so far and on Tuesday he made the play of the day, a leaping interception of Matthew Stafford.

Tavai's pick came during a red-zone drill when he dropped into shallow zone coverage near the goal line and deflected the ball to himself.

He returned it down the far sideline, where a frustrated Stafford chased him down and tried unsuccessfully to collar him for a tackle.

I'm not sure if Stafford didn't see the rookie or tried to throw over him – a receiver, I think Marvin Jones, appeared to be slipping loose of his defender on the play – but whatever the case, Tavai showed some impressive athleticism to make the tip and pick.

[ Lions WR Marvin Jones fueled by injury-shortened 2018 season ]

The Lions intend to use Tavai in a variety of roles in their linebacking corps, and as such have moved him all over the field this summer.

He played as a stack linebacker in the first practice of camp, when Christian Jones ran with the second-team. He took some snaps at Devon Kennard's outside linebacker spot on Day 2 of camp, when Kennard was out with an injury. And he's some played middle linebacker, too, when the Lions move Jarrad Davis to the edge.

Lions linebackers Jahlani Tavai and Jarrad Davis watch drills during practice during training camp on Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Allen Park.

Both Jones and Kennard remain out with injuries, so Tavai, Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin got the bulk of the first-team work Tuesday.

I'd still consider Tavai the fourth linebacker for now – Kennard and Jones were every-game starters when healthy last year – but it's clear he's going to play a lot for the Lions this fall and contribute to their failure or success.

Da'Shawn Hand wore a whopper of a brace on his left arm Tuesday after leaving Sunday's workout with an apparent elbow injury. I don't remember exactly who, but one media member compared Hand's brace to the one J.J. Watt wears regularly with the Houston Texans, and that image certain fits.

Detroit Lions defensive end Da'Shawn Hand leaves the field after an injury against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz.

Hand declined an interview request as he walked off the field, but there was noticeable swelling behind his left elbow. I wouldn't expect him back on the field too soon, but he still has more than a month to get ready for the first game.

Watt, by the way, started wearing the brace after he dislocated his elbow in the 2012 season, when he played all 16 games. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis also wore a similar brace when he returned from a torn triceps muscle that year.

• A'Shawn Robinson practiced for the first time Tuesday after missing last week for personal reasons. He, too, declined an interview request as he came off the field. Robinson took a handful of first-team reps in most periods before giving way to Kevin Strong, but he has a ways to go to get in shape. As players ran the perimeter of the field for conditioning work after practice Tuesday, Robinson lagged noticeably behind the group and I wouldn't even qualify what he was doing as jogging by the time he finished.

• The Lions did some one-on-one pass protection drills Tuesday with running backs squaring off against linebackers and safeties. The drill is definitely slanted towards defensive players, but it's still worth mentioning a few guys who stood out. 

Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner watches drills during minicamp practice Thursday, June 6, 2019 in Allen Park.

I thought Zach Zenner was the best pass protector of the running backs. He stymied Reeves-Maybin on one rush, Tavon Wilson on another and Will Harris on a third, and was able to gather himself after an initial jolt from Davis on still another. Kerryon Johnson, by contrast, was a little rusty in his protection. Quandre Diggs was too quick for Johnson on one snap, and Tavai knocked him back with his powerful hands on another.

More:Matt Patricia loves Zach Zenner. Here's why Lions fans should, too

• One period after the pass-protection drill, the running backs and linebackers went one-on-one on pass routes, and that, too, went about as you'd expect in a drill slanted towards the offense. Johnson showed his versatility by beating Davis for a couple catches and fullback Nick Bawden got the better of Tavai on one route when the rookie appeared to be too flat-footed.

• If not for the Tavai pick, the play of the day might have gone to Jamal Agnew, who made a diving pass breakup of a Tom Savage throw to a slot receiver whose number I didn't catch. Agnew looks like the Lions' backup slot corner at this point, behind Justin Coleman, but he'll be active on gamedays if he wins the return job.

• Agnew, Ty Johnson, Brandon Powell and Danny Amendola all got reps as kick returner Tuesday, if you're keeping track at home.

• I don't know what Lions coach Matt Patricia said to his defense, but he huddled them up at one point during Tuesday's practice for a good two minutes or so. The second-team defense committed some sort of mental error the play before and had to run the length of the field. Clearly, Patricia was not happy with whatever transpired.

Lions coach Matt Patricia watches the action during practice during training camp on Friday, July 26, 2019, in Allen Park.

• Because of the way the Lions' practice fields are situated, Matt Prater spends some of his time kicking field goals on the skinny goal posts right in front of the bleachers the media are confined to on the east side of the field. Prater's kicks often sail into the bleachers, where reporters have to keep their head on a swivel or risk getting hit. Some sail over or next to the bleachers, too, where high-school and middle-school football players sometimes line up to retrieve them. Shout out to the one player who made a nice catch on one such kick Tuesday.

• My attention was elsewhere for some of the one-on-one passing drills the Lions did Tuesday, but I did note one play Teez Tabor made. He was covering Marvin Jones, the Lions' best deep threat, and ran stride for stride with him for 30 or so yards. Stafford overthrew Jones on the play, but since Tabor's speed has been questioned repeatedly, it feels like it's worth mentioning that he stayed with Jones on that pass.

• Last thing for the day: It was good to see Kelly Stafford, the wife of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, at practice Tuesday. Kelly Stafford underwent a 12-hour surgery this spring to remove a brain tumor and has posted regular updates about her health on Instagram. She had two of the couple's daughters with her Tuesday. Here's hoping all her health problems are in the past.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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