MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Tabor navigating the ups and downs of a rookie cornerback

Posted Aug 11, 2017

Burned in one instant, recovering an instant later on the same play, rookie Teez Tabor showed an example Thursday of the hazards of playing cornerback.

INDIANAPOLIS –In a matter of a few seconds – with a split-second reaction – Teez Tabor gave another example of the continual struggle for cornerbacks to survive trial by fire.

On the first day of two practices against the Indianapolis Colts, the Detroit Lions’ rookie was burned on a deep pattern by Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton for what looked like a big catch. But with a quick reaction, Tabor used his long reach to rip the ball away from Hilton with his right hand.

Burned in one instant, recovering an instant later on the same play, it was an example of the hazards of playing cornerback.

The Lions drafted Tabor in the second round out of Florida despite some questions about his speed. General manager Bob Quinn felt Tabor was worth taking that high after doing extensive study on him in preparation for the draft.

Tabor admits to having some ups and downs in training camp, and he does not shy away from talking about them.

“It’s the camp grind,” Tabor told reporters after Thursday’s practice. “I’ve had my fair share of struggles. I’m just trying to keep pushing.

“I know it comes with the territory. Young cornerbacks are just like young quarterbacks. Being real young, youngest in the game – 21 years old and doing it with guys who’ve been doing it a long time, it’s going to come with some growing pains.

“These guys have been doing it since I was a little kid.”

It was a coincidence that Hilton is one of Tabor’s favorite players. Hilton played at Florida International and has developed into an explosive threat in his five seasons with the Colts.

“I grew up watching him,” Tabor said. “He’s one of the best receivers, and actually one my favorite receivers growing up. He was so fast  ... he was burning fast.”

The throw to Hilton was a case of a veteran working on a rookie. Tabor was in combination coverage with veteran free safety Glover Quin, and he bit on a pump fake that let Hilton get a step on him.

“That was definitely on me,” said Tabor, taking full blame. “I just didn’t squeeze him enough. He was wide open. That’s my fault. GQ is supposed to play under. I was over the top. GQ was under – but I wasn’t over the top.”

But Tabor did not give up on the play. Hilton had taken one stride with possession of the ball when Tabor got his hand in to strip the ball away. In a real game, there might have been a replay review and potentially a turnover.

Regardless, it was a sign of Tabor’s competitive instinct that he did not give up the play. He even joked when he was asked if he used his “catch-up speed” to make the play.

“I don’t know if it’s more catch-up speed -- or scared to get beat deep,” Tabor said. “It’s just a ‘want to.’  When the guy catches the ball and you’re still right there, you can still make a play. That’s just the fight I have in me.

“I’ve been playing ball since I was in high school, little league, college. When the guy’s right there, you’ve got to fight. That’s all I try to do.”

Creating turnovers is something all teams preach. It was a weakness for the Lions last year. They had only 10 interceptions. Only six teams had fewer.

“The coaches emphasize it a lot,” Tabor said. “Turnovers are one of the key stats in football. You win the turnover battle, you win the game. Football’s about possessions. When you take away possessions and give them to your offense, that’s plus two. You’re taking it away and giving it to your offense.

“When we get our hands on the ball, we try to make it count.”