Cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew dipped their toes in the water playing on defense for the Lions this past season as rookies.
Tabor was a healthy scratch the first five games, but worked himself into the lineup (three snaps) Week 6 in New Orleans before earning a much bigger role later in the season, playing 44 snaps against Chicago and Cincinnati in Weeks 15 and 16. In all, Tabor saw 190 snaps on defense.
Agnew was named first team All-Pro as a punt returner, but also got a little bit of experience on defense. A majority of that came the final week of the season vs. Green Bay. Agnew played 57 of a possible 68 snaps in that Week 17 win over the Packers. He played 69 snaps total on defense as a rookie.
Both players could see significant increases in their roles next season.
Veterans Nevin Lawson and DJ Hayden are both unrestricted free agents, and Lions general manager Bob Quinn was asked at the Combine if replacements for free agents in the secondary are possibly already on the roster.
“I think there’s probably a pretty good chance they are internal,” Quinn said. “We drafted those guys for a reason last year. When we evaluated them in the postseason process, we liked what they did in their roles.”
Depending on what happens in free agency, and next month’s draft, the Lions could be looking at Darius Slay and Tabor on the outside and Agnew in the slot heading into 2018.
“Jamal (Agnew) didn’t really get out defensively too much because we had a lot of depth at nickel,” Quinn said. “I think Jamal can probably handle some of those roles, but he has to have a really good offseason. He has to come in and learn a new defense, so that’s going to be a transition for him.
“Teez (Tabor) had a solid rookie year. We started him off slow on purpose to kind of get his feet wet a little bit before we threw him out there. The more he played down the stretch, I think the better he played.”
Tabor has attached himself to the hip of Slay, who was named an All Pro and Pro Bowler for the first time in his career last year, and said after the season that the ability to sit back and watch Slay before getting his opportunity to play was invaluable to the development we saw from him towards the end of the year.
“I took a step back and actually got a chance to learn,” Tabor said. “You don’t really see it at the time, but now that I’m looking back on it, that helped me tremendously. Like, I can’t even explain how just getting able to sit back and watch certain guys and how they play and how they go about their day helped me.
“(Slay) won’t even know some of the stuff that I pick up from him. He’ll probably never know. I just sit back and watch him. He’s a special player and more importantly he’s a special person.”
Tabor is a football junkie in the best sense of the term. He lives, breathes and eats football, so it will be interesting to see how he comes back in April with a true offseason under his belt.
Agnew possesses 4.3 speed packed into a compact 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame. He has the speed, strength and skillset to play in the slot and excel there, given the mental part of playing the position matches the physical skills.
The Lions are counting on Tabor and Agnew to take the big leap most players make from year one to two, and to make a bigger splash in Detroit’s revamped defense in 2018.