Kyle Meinke, MLive:
ALLEN PARK – There’s been a lot of hand-wringing among fans about the absence of Darius Slay and Snacks Harrison in Detroit this offseason. On Tuesday, those absences protracted into the first day of mandatory minicamp. Both are subjected to fines that can approach $90,000.
But one guy who probably doesn’t mind the holdouts? Teez Tabor.
Listen, Tabor has been a trainwreck through two seasons. And with new blood in the system with the likes of Rashaan Melvin, Justin Coleman and Amani Oruwariye, the former second-round pick could be facing a make-or-break offseason. There’s little doubt about it.
But with Slay keeping his distance from the club in pursuit of a new deal, Tabor has been the biggest beneficiary by getting a bunch of first-team reps. And he’s made the very most of that opportunity.
When Organized Team Activities opened last month, Tabor was shown on the team website intercepting a pass. When Detroit opened OTAs to reporters the following day, he got Connor Cook for another. In last week’s open practice, he broke up a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Danny Amendola on a comeback route. And let it be said, Amendola has been far and away Detroit’s best receiver with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones out.
On Tuesday, Tabor opened minicamp by turning in yet another strong practice performance. That includes picking off one pass where he tipped the ball near the line of scrimmage and managed to handle the carom. He nearly added another pick later in practice, and settled for the breakup on a pass intended for Andy Jones.
Of course, Andy Jones probably isn’t going to the Pro Bowl any time soon. With Jones and Golladay not participating in team drills, Tabor hasn’t been tested by Detroit’s best. So take his progress with a healthy helping of salt.
Then again, when the ball is thrown his way, Tabor is just making plays man. And he’s rarely getting beat. While that might mean much at this early stage, it’s certainly better than him struggling against backups.
What exactly this all means is unclear. But there are obvious signs of progress, and for a player on the verge of getting run out of town, this is encouraging. I still think Darius Slay and Rashaan Melvin will start at outside cornerback in Arizona, but if Tabor can parlay this strong start into something real in training camp and beyond, Detroit’s secondary could be even deeper than originally thought.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve seen that growth from last year,” coach Matt Patricia said. “We’d be in there installing or going through defenses, and he’s just taking that next step of saying, ‘All right, well hey, what if this happens? What do you want to do here? What’s the leverage look like in this call, or how do you want me to play this technique here?’ That shows just a lot of growth from the mental side of it.”
Patricia has clearly been impressed. He’s not a huge fan of singling out players because he wants to keep the attention on the team, but sang Tabor’s praises for 319 words before practice on Tuesday.
“I would say it probably started (with) more than what you’re seeing right now,” Patricia said. "It really started after (last) season – he’s just done a great job of coming in and trying to learn the game, understand he has a lot to learn. He’s still a young player, and he’s really attacked that from an aspect of going at it with a fresh set of eyes. On the field, I think he’s really trying to improve his technique, and he’s really trying to play patient.
“It’s a good opportunity for us right now in a non-contact sort of mentality where you can really work on footwork and you can work on the fundamental skills of what we need to do out there and just focus on the attention to detail to that. The next step will be carrying that over when we do finally get pads on and implementing the physical part of the technique. He’s just done everything that we’ve asked him to do, worked extremely hard, he’s studying the game, he’s in the meeting rooms, he’s asking great questions.”
Now the question is: Is Tabor’s rise real, or a June mirage?
A couple other observations from practice today:
– It was a sloppy day for the offense, with a bunch of flags and drops. First-round pick T.J. Hockenson had one of them – after dropping one pass all last season at Iowa – and then there was a flag on the very next play. Outside of Danny Amendola, who has become Matthew Stafford’s favorite target in the absence of Golladay and Marvin Jones, the offense just wasn’t sharp.
– Snacks Harrison and Darius Slay weren’t in attendance, as expected. Everyone else was accounted for, but a bunch of players continue to work on the side with a trainer. That includes Golladay, Marvin Jones, defensive end Trey Flowers, defensive end Austin Bryant, tight end Isaac Nauta, receiver Tommylee Lewis, tight end Jerome Cunningham, linebacker Steve Longa, safety David Jones and fullback Nick Bawden.
– I don’t think there’s much to worry about with Golladay and Marvin Jones. Both receivers have worked on the side with a trainer, and later in practice were running and catching footballs in the end zone. Their absences seem precautionary more than anything as they make their way back from an injury-riddled 2018.
– For the third straight practice open to reporters, Frank Ragnow remained at center and Graham Glasgow kicked to right guard. It sure seems like the Lions are keen on that alignment, no matter how much Matt Patricia tries to downplay the significance. Kenny Wiggins has been the left guard.
– On the second team, Joe Dahl got some run today at center. His versatility is probably his strongest attribute at this point, and his best case for making the team. He played left tackle in college before getting much of his time at guard in Detroit the last couple years.
– Once again, rookie Jahlani Tavai mixed in with the first team at linebacker. I still don’t have a great feel for how much he’ll play when the season opens, but here’s betting he eventually becomes a regular in Year 1. He’s a big dude, and the Lions have been experimenting with different ways to get him going after the quarterback.
– Da’Shawn Hand has gotten the bulk of Snacks Harrison’s usual reps anchoring the first-team defensive line, and Romeo Okwara has replaced Trey Flowers on the end. When Detroit’s back at full strength, that front has a chance to become one of the deepest in the game.