With other draft picks at the forefront of the news, Whitehead remaining low-key

Posted May 15, 2012

In all the post-draft talk surrounding the three Oklahoma players the Lions selected, the small-school kid from Albion getting his shot at the pros, and the selection of an impressive first-round offensive tackle in Riley Reiff - who fell to the Lions at No. 23 - linebacker Tahir Whitehead has been somewhat lost in the scuffle.

Let's not forget the Lions thought enough of Whitehead to trade up with the Vikings in the fifth round (giving up their fourth-round pick this year) to get the linebacker out of Temple. The Lions also flopped seventh-round picks with the Vikings, moving from No. 219 to No. 223.

While Whitehead hasn't made a lot of headlines since the draft, the Lions have high hopes for him. He fits exactly the profile they like in their outside linebackers, which is a combination of size and speed in a smart player.

"He's a little bit like Doug (Hogue) last year," Lions linebackers coach Matt Burke said of Whitehead. "He's over 6-foot-1, he's 233 (pounds); at the combine, ran 4.6s or something like that. He's an explosive player. He's a tough kid."

Whitehead certainly fits the profile physically; the biggest question with him over the next few months is how quickly he makes the transition from a 3-4 on-the-line-of-scrimmage linebacker at Temple to an off-the-ball outside linebacker with the Lions.

"I think this weekend was very important as far as learning the scheme and the defense they run being that I was always on the line of scrimmage at Temple," Whitehead said after the Lions' rookie mini-camp concluded Sunday. "Just adjusting to it and taking coaching points; (I have to) keep listening and keep learning and just letting it all soak in."

Learning and soaking it all in shouldn't be a problem for Whitehead, who Burke describes as one of the smartest rookies he's ever been around.

"I think everything fits," Burke said. "You can't have a direct translation from some of the stuff he does on film but everything else sort of fits to a tee and we felt really good about where he's going to go with us there."

Initially, Whitehead's biggest role will come on special teams. He said he played on at least two special teams units every year at Temple and played on all four as a freshman.

The Lions are hoping Whitehead, fourth-round pick Ronnell Lewis and other young players can come in and have an immediate impact on special teams as they develop into their roles on defense behind established starters.

The Lions ranked 26th in kickoff coverage last year and had the second-worst net punting average in the NFL.

Whitehead and his fellow rookies are now joining the veterans in the offseason training program and the entire roster will be on the practice field for organized team activity practices starting next week.

"I heard great things about Justin Durant," Whitehead said of getting an opportunity to work alongside the Lions' veteran outside linebacker. "I heard that he's a wonderful guy to work with and I just can't wait to get around him and the others so I can learn from those guys and just further my knowledge from what I learned this weekend."

Whitehead hasn't been the talk of the 2012 draft class, but that doesn't bother him at all.

"As far as slipping through the cracks, I'll just be quiet and stay humble and work hard," he said.