Mission accomplished for rookie linebacker Tahir Whitehead in first full padded NFL practice

Posted Aug 1, 2012

Newark West Side High School football coach Brian Logan gave rookie linebacker Tahir Whitehead some advice when he was in high school that’s stuck with him over the years. It was particularly relevant in Lions training camp practice Tuesday.

Whitehead participated in his first full-padded practice as an NFL player on Tuesday and before he stepped on the field he said he remembered what Logan had once told him.

“I’ve been thinking about (this moment) prior to today, just don’t get put on my back,” Whitehead said. “My mentor (Logan) always told me that if they get their hands on you, those offensive lineman will put you on your big numbers. So my whole mindset was don’t get put on your back. Play downhill and make your plays.”

Mission accomplished for Whitehead. The Lions did some live tackling during a team running drill in Tuesday’s practice and Whitehead managed to stay off of his back. He even put his nose in on a few hits.

The Lions moved up in April’s NFL Draft to select Whitehead, giving up a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft to get him. The team obviously thinks highly of their rookie linebacker, and so do some of his veteran teammates after watching him the last few days of camp.

“He's explosive and smart,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said of Whitehead. “He's understanding and takes coaching very well and he doesn't make the same mistakes. Whenever you see a rookie that corrects his mistakes week in and week out, day in and day out, it's a definite positive – a guy you can trust on the field. I'm looking forward to seeing him grow as we go through training camp.”

Whitehead says he's picking up the scheme and adjusting well to the speed of the NFL game. There was some question as to how long it would take for Whitehead to get acclimated to the scheme because he played an unconventional hybrid rush linebacker position in college at Temple in their 3-4 scheme.

“I’m just picking up as much as I can each day and correcting mistakes,” Whitehead said. “They say once you get on full pads, the game speed is totally different. Today I saw it. Everything was just flashing before my eyes, but I think I handled myself pretty well.”

The adjustment for Whitehead is made easier by the fact that the Lions keep it simple when it comes to their outside linebackers. The team doesn't differentiate between the strong side and weak side at linebacker within their scheme. It’s probably why the Lions covet versatility and speed in their outside linebackers.

Whitehead thinks the Lions scheme simplifies the position and makes it easier for a rookie to pick up quicker.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “Not having to switch sides and rotating whenever a certain formation comes out. You just stay to your side and you just play ball.” Whitehead has certainly been doing that thus far in camp.

“Tahir is going to be a special player,” Tulloch said.