It is pretty amazing how quickly things can change for a player in just one year.
This time last year, Detroit Lions cornerback Teez Tabor was a bright-eyed rookie trying to get meaningful reps. The Lions brought Tabor along very slow last season after selecting him in the second round of the NFL Draft.
This spring has been a much different story as Tabor embarks on his second season in the league. During all open practices so far, he has been the outside cornerback opposite Darius Slay with the first-team defense.
It’s still very early, and a lot can happen before the Lions play their first game on Sept. 10, but it appears Tabor is getting a great opportunity to play an important role on the Lions' defense in 2018.
Asked about Tabor and fellow second-year cornerback Jamal Agnew, who’s seen time in the slot with the first-team defense, Slay said the biggest thing he’s noticed about the two young cornerbacks is how they’re playing with swagger and confidence.
“You have to have the confidence and you have to be brave enough to make plays and you have to be brave enough to make a mistake ... learn from it and bounce back,” Slay said.
“That’s how I learned in my second year in the league. I had to learn to let stuff go. Guys at a young age don’t let stuff go.”
The slow approach the Lions took with Tabor’s rookie season might have actually accelerated his development. Tabor wasn’t thrown to the wolves right away like Slay was. Slay started immediately as a rookie, and was benched before earning time back. His rookie season was very much up and down.
It’s obviously worked out for Slay in the long run, as he's coming off his first All-Pro and Pro Bowl season in 2017, but the Lions were afforded the opportunity to play Tabor last year only when he was ready to play. He played just three snaps the first half of the season, but continued to make progress in practice and showed coaches he was ready for a bigger opportunity. He got in for 11 snaps Week 9 in Green Bay and 17 a couple weeks later in Baltimore.
Weeks 14, 15 and 16 saw Tabor play over half of the snaps on defense, 29, 44 and 44, respectively, before he injured his arm Week 17 early in the Green Bay game.
Tabor’s been active, and has gotten his hands on a couple passes the last few days of minicamp practice. On Tuesday, he intercepted quarterback Matthew Stafford in a team session and returned it for a touchdown.
“I’m just trying to build confidence every day,” Tabor said Wednesday. “Like I said, getting better with every rep. You build that confidence with every rep, with every meeting, with every individual (period).”
The Lions are a pretty deep group at cornerback with Nevin Lawson, last year’s starter opposite Slay on the outside, returning after re-signing this offseason as a free agent. The team also signed veteran cornerback DeShawn Shead from Seattle. Agnew and versatile defensive back Quandre Diggs are also in the mix at the position, though moreso at the nickel spot.
“You know, a lot of those guys in the corner position, we’re asking them to do a lot of different things and kind of spinning them through in different situations,” head coach Matt Patricia said.
“(Tabor’s) long, he’s a big corner, has really good instincts, he’s athletic. Those are positives. Obviously, we’ve still got a lot of learning to do with him and everybody at the position to really master to techniques that we’re asking them to do and be consistent with it.”
But it certainly seems safe to say that Tabor is miles ahead – both mentally and physically – of where he was this time last year, and early indications are that he’s a serious contender for an increased role in Detroit’s defense right from the get go this season.