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RBs coach breaks down what made Vaki stand out in pre-draft process

It took just a couple in-person meetings in the pre-draft process for Lions assistant head coach/running backs coach Scottie Montgomery to know Sione Vaki was a perfect fit for the Lions both on and off the field.

Vaki played as Utah's emergency running back for a six-game stretch to close out last season. He produced 317 yards rushing on just 42 carries (7.5 avg.) and found the end zone twice. He also showed off advanced skills in the passing game, hauling in 11 catches for 203 yards and three more touchdowns.

View photos from Day 7 of Detroit Lions OTA practice on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in Allen Park, Mich.

In the first meeting with Vaki in the pre-draft process, Montgomery put him through the ringer with a ton of information about protections and route running and things he didn't have extensive knowledge of because of his brief time playing running back in college.

It was intentional, per Montgomery, and he made it as tough as he could on Vaki to see how the youngster would respond. Vaki admitted he didn't know most of the material being thrown at him, but at the end of the meeting was able to reproduce all the information.

"What we gave him, he was able to regurgitate really quickly," Montgomery said.

Vaki then came to Allen Park for one of the team's 30 allotted visits.

"When he came into the building, he had maybe watched all of our tape, just about 80 percent of our schemes, and he had personally drew all of them out vs. different coverages, vs. different fronts," Montgomery said.

"He didn't know the name of it, he just knew the technical name of it. So, when he sat down, he had this folder, and he just started opening it and flipped it and said, 'Coach you guys run this, right? Okay, yeah, against Las Vegas. Okay, that was against ... ' It was refreshing to see an old school mentality of just doing the work. Not having anybody else do it for you. You have it all drawn out the way that it needs to be drawn out. And then preparing for those visits in that way. So that was impressive."

That's when Montgomery and the Lions knew Vaki would be a good fit in Detroit.

Vaki is expected to be a core four-phase special teamer as a rookie and will look to earn a role as a reserve running back behind David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. He's already shown off impressive hands in the passing game over OTAs and minicamp.

"He just understands, 'Okay, here's what we're doing here, here's why we're doing it, and this is how it fits into the schematic whole for our football club,'" Montgomery said. "So, everything that he learns every day, he has it. He's been as good as most guys that we see from a rookie standpoint, from a mental error standpoint. The fundamentals piece we've still got to go a little ways, but mental error-wise, he's been really good."

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