The New England Patriots lined Jamie Collins Sr. up as a defensive lineman, pass rusher and off-the-ball linebacker in their defense last year. In fact, he played all three spots in at least 20 percent of his snaps.
We saw rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai do something similar for the Lions last season, and if the first week of training camp is any indication, we could see even more of him playing all over this defense again this year. Through the first week of padded practices in training camp, Tavai has lined up at every linebacker spot for the Lions' defense.
Collins joined the Lions this offseason via free agency, and his experience being a multi-use player in a similar defense over multiple years has been a good influence on Tavai early in camp.
"He's been a huge asset," Tavai said of Collins. "My biggest thing last year was I had a lot of wasted movement. That caused me to miss out on plays. Just watching the way Jamie plays, it's like if you don't have to step he doesn't step. The ball just somehow attracts to him and that's just something I want to adapt to and just get my eyes right, so I can become that kind of player."
Collins found the ball a lot of different ways playing in a similar Patriots defense in 2019. He recorded 81 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Tavai was the only rookie in the NFL to post at least 50 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and one interception last season, laying the groundwork for a productive second season.
The ability of Collins, Tavai, and even Christian Jones and Reggie Ragland, to play multiple roles gives head coach Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and linebackers coach Ty McKenzie options when it comes to different packages and personnel groupings.
Tavai said the additions of Collins and Ragland have been especially good for him in terms of learning how the little things affect the bigger picture on defense.
Collins, in particular, has been a really good asset for Tavai, who is being trained to have a similar multiple skill set that can be utilized in a lot of different ways.