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O'HARA: Tavai cutting weight to better compete for role in Lions' new defense

Jahlani Tavai has slimmed down to put himself in the thick of what has already emerged in the offseason workouts as a battle for jobs among the Detroit Lions' linebackers.

A weight loss of 17 pounds from last season's playing weight has made Tavai a better fit for the scheme brought in by new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. Speed is a vital component of that scheme.

In a recent Zoom interview, Glenn spoke highly of Tavai's potential without being prompted.

"This game has actually transitioned to having more speed on the field," Glenn said. "He's moving well. He's another guy that's catching my eye as far as a guy who can run."

Tavai has played 31 of 32 games with 16 starts since being drafted by the Lions in the second round out of Hawaii in 2019. He played a little more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps in each of the last two seasons.

Size was a premium under former head coach Matt Patricia's scheme, and Tavai bulked up to fit the scheme, which was expected of him.

Tavai did not participate in the Combine workouts before the 2019 draft because of a shoulder injury. His playing weight for the 2018 college season was listed at 245 pounds on Hawaii's football website.

Tavai said in an interview after one of last week's OTA practices that he got "close to" 270 pounds last year and now is down to "247 ... close to 250."

A conversation with linebackers coach Mark DeLeone spelled out what was expected of him if he wanted to contribute to the defense, Tavai said.

"I just got a call (from DeLeone,)" Tavai said. "We were chopping it up. He explained to me what I had to do to be great. I'm trying to be great. I'm trying to be the best Jahlani Tavai I can be, to help this team.

"By training camp, I'll be 245 – or maybe under."

Tavai changed his eating habits to lose weight. It included eating small snacks, and not having big dinners late at night.

"It wasn't too hard, actually," he said. "I just had to stay focused on what I wanted to achieve -- losing some weight coming in to this camp, knowing there's an opportunity for me here.

"I took a positive approach on it and made sure I stayed positive on that."

It was obvious from watching Tavai in drills last week that he has lost a substantial amount of weight.

It's also obvious from looking at the Lions' roster that the linebacker position has been dramatically overhauled since the end of last season.

Part of that is the need to stock the 3-4 scheme brought in by Glenn as the base defense. It was also very unlikely that head coach Dan Campbell and his staff were going to ride with a defense that gave up the most yards (419.8 per game) and points (519) last season of any team in the league.

Tavai and Jamie Collins Sr. are the only linebackers on the roster returning from last year who could be considered regulars on defense. Next on the list is Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a special teams ace most of his first four years as a Lion with 38 defensive snaps.

Among the additions are rookie Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round draft pick from Purdue, and Alex Anzalone, signed as a free agent after four years with the Saints.

The opportunity is there for Tavai to win a job, and play in a scheme he likes – one that has the linemen control the gaps and free the linebackers to make plays.

"I just want to come down and make plays," he said. "Linebackers are supposed to be the game-changers and make plays. That's what they're trying to help us to do.

"I'm just having fun out there and playing football the way I always do. It's exciting to see everything coming together."

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