Good things come to those who wait.
Often times, it’s a silly, unbelievable cliche, especially for those who play football and get forced to toil away long hours on the practice fields and in the weight rooms with dreams of making an eventual impact in the league.
Friday night, linebacker Tahir Whitehead had a performance that could have helped him kick down the door for the Detroit Lions. Whitehead, drafted in 2012, has long been a good soldier, working hard on special teams and providing his teammates a lift on the practice field and on the sidelines.
Now, though, he’s beginning to take over a starting spot on the field left wide open thanks to rookie Kyle Van Noy’s inconsistent play and veteran Ashlee Palmer’s inability to make a meaningful, consistent impact when playing. Whitehead’s start could have been Jim Caldwell and staff subtly tipping their hand early, meaning he could be the clubhouse favorite to take over strong side linebacking duties.
With an eye-opening 10 tackle, three sack, four tackle-for-loss performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Whitehead was all over the field flying to the ball. He showed signs of what many said he could become coming out of college. Speed, tackling ability, agility and pursuit were all on display. Previously, thanks to his hard work, most already knew him as a good, hustling teammate, but few had seen such an explosive game performance.
Unless Van Noy comes from behind the pack and Palmer does something to wow coaches in the last few weeks before the season opener, Whitehead’s big night on defense should be enough to push him over the top for a starting spot this fall. He’s looked like an explosive play waiting to happen at times, but the one big game could give him all the confidence he needs to finally get over the hump and stick as a starter.
At the very least, Whitehead has earned the right to see the field first this September with everything he’s gone through the last two years and solid play. Palmer had his shot last season. If Whitehead wins the job, he has just the type of personalty that won’t give it up easy, either, even from a young competitor like Van Noy.
Whitehead’s development hasn’t come quickly, but neither do true riches in life. Credit him for sticking it out, making an impact and possibly earning a right to make his ultimate dream come true.