Michigan State grad Kevin Jarvis knows recipe to make Detroit Lions roster

The Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Free Press

Kevin Jarvis stayed on the practice field for extra work Thursday, then trotted off with offensive quality control coach Steve Oliver, deep in conversation about what improvements he could implement for the next day.

A former Michigan State football offensive lineman who signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent, Jarvis is fixated on daily improvement in his first NFL training camp. He'll gladly spend extra minutes — even after the longest practice the Lions have run this preseason — working on his technique and learning.

"I'm just trying to do anything I can to stay here," Jarvis said. "And that's what it's gonna take, is to put in some extra time, because obviously, I'm not where all the starters are at, so just trying to get there."

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Jarvis developed his work ethic as a kid, when he took out the garbage and swept and mopped the floor at a Moose Lodge on Sunday mornings. He also watched how hard his mother worked; she was a police officer in Chicago for 21 years.

"Doing this isn't really tough compared to what they do a lot of the time," said Jarvis, who studied criminal justice at MSU and might pursue a career there after football.

Jarvis is locked in on football for now, although along the way, he'd love to crack the Wikipedia page of his other alma mater, Maine South High School. Former U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton graduated from Maine South, as did a handful of former pro baseball players and Olympians.

However, only two alums have played in an NFL game, and none since 1988, the most notable being Dave Butz, a defensive lineman drafted No. 5 overall in 1973. Jarvis could become the first Maine South grad to play an NFL game on offense this fall.

He's confident Northwestern University offensive tackle Peter Skoronski, an NFL prospect for 2023 and fellow former Hawk, will soon join him, so he's looking to set the example.

"That's something kind of big because it doesn't really happen too often, I guess," Jarvis said. "So, just trying to make people proud."

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The Lions' starting offensive line of Penei Sewell, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson and Taylor Decker could be one of the league's best this season. That group didn't play a single snap together in 2021 due to injuries.

"You never know what's gonna happen," head coach Dan Campbell said Wednesday. "(Injuries) happened last year, so we gotta be ready to go and have the next guy up and find out who (those) sixth, seventh guys are behind them."

Evan Brown and Matt Nelson have solidified spots as the backup center and swing tackle, respectively. But there's still opportunity for Jarvis, who has received some first-team snaps during training camp.

Jarvis' versatility helps his case. At MSU, he made 39 career starts — 25 at right guard, three at left tackle and 11 at right tackle.

"Just being able to show that I can do a lot," Jarvis said of how he can carve out a reserve role. "I can play both tackles, both guards and center possibly too, so just kind of showing that and just being willing to do anything I'm asked of."

Healthy O-line benefits: V vs Hutch

Vatai has taken notice of how those behind him on the depth chart, like Jarvis, are preparing.

"It’s really good, they’re treating themselves like they’re starters," Vatai said. "Which is good, because if one of us is down, we can trust them to fill in to help us win games. They understand the game speed, how the game flows and it’s really good for them.

"This room is really good. I love this room. Bunch of young guys that we can help and teach, guide them. Just trying to give my knowledge to them because I was a rookie once, I was a young guy. So it’s really good. I love this room."

But the goal is for the starting five to play together all season, and Vatai can easily point out the benefits that would provide.

Center Frank Ragnow, who missed 13 games last season with a toe injury, is superb at identifying defenses and putting the other linemen in the right positions. In turn, the line gives quarterback Jared Goff more time to make his reads.

The O-line's proficiency is being tested in practice by the Lions' defense. Vaitai has occasionally sparred with first-round draft pick Aidan Hutchinson, who has slid inside from defensive end on a few plays.

"It makes me think a lot," Vaitai said. "He has some twitchiness to him, I love it. It makes me think. Can’t just sit. He has a really good bull rush, he has a really good — he just has a lot of good things. I hope he’ll help us this season."

Safety switch going well for Melifonwu

Ifeatu Melifonwu was working out at cornerback and safety during OTAs, and that early introduction to safety helped him with the mental side of learning the new position. Safety is likely his home this season given a crowded cast of cornerbacks.

"I feel like the biggest challenge has been, I'd say, mentally," Melifonwu said. "Because at corner, you're only seeing half the field and you're kind of waiting on the safety to make the call to you, but at safety, you see the full field and you've got to make the call. You've got to know when to come down. You've got to know when to get back.

"I feel like sometimes when you're middle of the field, you don't have an exact assignment, but at corner, you're always covering the guy in front of you. You've got to just be disciplined with your eyes and stuff and stay in your pedal. It's just a little different."

Melifonwu's position switch has been going well — he even snagged a red zone interception during Thursday's practice. He likes the added responsibility that comes with communicating more, making calls and working with linebackers.

"It's just a different perspective and a different way you've got to play it," he said. "I'm getting used to it, but I just like playing football."

Contact Mason Young: Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0

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