Sione Vaki sold the Lions on him with pro level preparation

The Lions clearly liked Sione Vaki during the pre-draft process, but he stood out for an intangible reason as well.

A safety by trade, Sione Vaki was pressed into duty as a running back for Utah last season. He proceeded to rush for 158 yards and two touchdowns (on 15 carries) against Cal, and the following week he had 217 total yards (149 receiving yards) and two receiving touchdowns against USC.

The Detroit Lions clearly liked Vaki during the pre-draft process, so much so they traded into the fourth round to get him at pick 132. General manager Brad Holmes made it clear the team sees the rookie as a running back first and foremost, and as a special teamer close behind that. Broadly, Vaki is a football player.

"He’s a football player that plays football like how we like it," Holmes said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

How Sione Vaki impressed Lions running backs coach Scottie Montgomery

It was notable that Vaki met with the Lions offensive staff during his pre-draft, which made it clear the envisioned him as a running back. That of course included running backs coach Scottie Montgomery.

From OTAs this past week, via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, Montgomery talked about meeting with Vaki at the NFL Combine and a month later at Allen Park.

"The first time that we had him in an interview setting, he was very honest," Montgomery said. "He was coming from a situation where he had played both sides of the football. The academia part of what we do in the NFL, protection-wise, route-wise, all that stuff was his first time really hearing (it). So I put him through every single thing. It was hard. I know it was as hard as I could make it for him, but what he didn’t know, he was very honest. What we gave him, he was able to regurgitate really quickly."

"Then, the icing was probably the second time I got a chance to see him. … When he came into the building, he had maybe watched all of our tape, just about 80% of our schemes, and he had personally drew all of them out versus different coverages, versus different fronts. He didn’t know the name of it, he just knew the technical (side) of it."

A core idea of being a successful NFL player is to watch film and be as prepared as possible. But Vaki went from being fairly naive to the nuances of playing running back in the NFL to being well-versed in the core concepts of the Lions' offense between meetings with the team.

Vaki had a binder with drawings showing what concepts the Lions ran against which teams. Montgomery was taken aback, yet fully appreciated, that level of preparation.

"It was refreshing to see an old-school mentality of just doing the work," Montgomery said. "Not having anybody else do it for you. You have it all drawn out the way that we draw it out. And then preparing for the business in that way, that was impressive."

Vaki has work to do to learn the finer points of the running back position (reads, routes, protections). But Montgomery said the rookie has been "really good" mental error-wise during OTAs, which is a reflection of the prep work he did before he was even drafted.


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