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Getting to know Jahlani Tavai with Hawaii Warrior World

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Who is Jahlani Tavai? We find out with help from a Hawaii football beat writer.

NCAA Football: Hawaii at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The second round was quite the round for Lions fans. They had visions of sugar plums and Amani Oruwariye dancing in their heads. But they would not get sugar plums. They would not get Amani Oruwariye (yet). They got Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai. They got to say “who?”

Lions twitter exploded with displeasure. Everyone was sure of a few things.

  1. The Lions picked another bust
  2. This was Teez Tabor all over again
  3. This is Ikaika Alama-Francis all over again
  4. The Lions don’t care what any of us think
  5. The Lions could have got Tavai in the seventh round

All of those things might be true. The fourth one is definitely true. The other four options might be proven wrong in the end. Who knows?

I believe the most common knock on Tavai is that many hadn’t even heard of him at the time. Believe me, I hadn’t either. That’s why I needed to go find out more. So I went to Jeremy Reisman and asked him to send me to Hawaii to find out. He said sure, but he did not make with the plane ticket. So I wound up having to just send an email.

I got in touch with Hawaii sports beat writer Stephen Tsai of Hawaii Warrior World and the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

He started with some background info, noting that Tavai actually played rugby in high school and was recruited as a nose tackle by Hawaii, but 250 pounder never quite filled out weight wise.

Tavai also had a pretty decent career at Hawaii playing all over the defense and special teams.

“He had more than 100 tackles during his sophomore and junior years,” Tsai told us. “As a sophomore, he was mostly a rush end. He played middle linebacker as a junior. Last year, his senior season, UH went with a 4-2-5 alignment. Tavai played middle, outside linebacker, stand-up nose, edge setter and rush end. As a freshman, he aligned as basically a rush end. In the 2015 regular-season finale, punter Rigo Sanchez (now with the Colts) had to take care of a family emergency in California. Tavai was used as a punter that game.”

Looks like Tavai is something of a jack of all trades. But as far what he’ll do in Detroit, the belief is the Matt Patricia will use him in something of a Dont’a Hightower-like role.

But there are, admittedly, some red flags. Jahlani is coming off a shoulder injury that required surgery, and he had a run in with police early in 2018. But no charges were filed and some argue Tavai actually did the right thing.

“They were at a nightclub and a teammate of Jahlani got into an argument with another guy and that guy bumped into the teammate’s girlfriend,” Tsai explained. “The two went outside and began to fight and Jahlani removed the guy off his teammate and was arrested along with the two others. No charges were filed.”

Lions general manager Bob Quinn noted that the team weighed the incident, but after talking with Tavai multiple times throughout the draft process, they had no concerns about it.

“I think a lot of people in this room would’ve stepped in and tried to do the right thing as well,” Quinn said. “So, it was unfortunate. He made a mistake, and we are totally fine with him character wise, one thousand percent.”

As far as strengths, Tsai says Tavai is a “a 250-pounder, and he can hit. As a junior, he had 89 runs stops in the tackle box. He also can help on the edge as a stand-up or hand-in-dirt pass rusher. He’s a very good open-field tackler.”

But his weakness is that he doesn’t have very much cover experience due to Hawaii’s five defensive back scheme. That should cause a little worry since coverage skills is something the Lions linebacker who are already on the roster struggle with.

It’s hard to know what Tavai will turn out to be for the Lions. What’s been confirmed over and over again is that he’s a great guy and a hard worker. There was clearly something about him that had the Lions excited on Friday night. We’ll have to wait to see what that is.