- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Kevin Ogletree took out his phone earlier this week and dialed up his old friend in Dallas. They didn’t talk about the game, or how for the first time in their careers they were opponents instead of teammates.
Ogletree is with the Detroit Lions now, after a brief stint in Tampa Bay, and Dez Bryant, one of the top wide receivers in the game, remains with the Dallas Cowboys. But while they may not play together anymore, they are still friends.
“That was my guy,” Ogletree said. “He’s still a good friend. [Tuesday] it was nothing about the game. It was, 'what cleats are you going to wear,' 'bring me some Jordans,' 'do you remember my size' type stuff.”
Ogletree was mostly kidding, although Bryant did sign a contract with Jordan Brand this year, giving him access to those cleats. Ogletree has also been in an interesting position.
Having entered the NFL in 2009, he was part of Dallas' receiving corps for the first three years of Bryant’s career, a complementary receiver to one of the emerging stars of the game at his position. Now Ogletree is learning from the single-season record holder in receiving yards, Calvin Johnson. He’s seen both up close. He understands what makes them so talented, so good, so tough to defend.
Both, Ogletree said, are bigger receivers. They make contested catches and run routes well.
“What stands out about Calvin is just how humble and modest he is, and helpful,” Ogletree said. “It’s kind of like the guys that are that good, you never know how willing they are to share some of their secrets. That being said, Calvin helps us with everything. He could be here for two hours.”
Ogletree went on to say it's the “same way with Dez, but a lot of stuff Dez does is just natural ability. He wouldn’t even be able to explain how he did it all or what happened but he’s got that type of skill. They are both great players.”
Bryant and Johnson both have otherworldly gifts as receivers. They make plays that few others in the NFL can make. Bryant, admittedly, is still maturing and learning how to improve, how to become even better than he is. Johnson, meanwhile, is at the top of his game.
There is, though, a lot to compare.
“You can definitely see some similarities,” Ogletree said. “A lot of people don’t know how strong Dez is. Dez is pretty strong. Calvin is the strongest I’ve seen to be that big and fast.
“Just a real blessing for me to be around those two types of players and to see what work goes into [and] what comes out of what happens when you put the right work in.”
While Ogletree doesn’t receive close to the attention that Johnson and Bryant command, he is finding a role in the Detroit offense.
He has been targeted seven times in his first three games with the Lions, catching five of those passes for 75 yards. Through his first three games, though, Ogletree’s snaps have varied. He saw four in his first game against Green Bay, although that wasn’t surprising considering he was signed days earlier. He had 28 against Cleveland and then 10 against Cincinnati once Johnson returned to full health.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Thursday that he could see Ogletree getting more snaps in the future. Where, though, could be the question. As Kris Durham emerges as the third wide receiver alongside Johnson and either Ryan Broyles or Nate Burleson, when he returns, in the slot, it could turn into an interesting situation with Ogletree and Durham.
“His targets and catches have been very good for us,” Linehan said. “He’s a veteran, played in a system when he was in Dallas that has a little bit of carryover for him here. He’s a veteran and a guy that works really hard to be ready for anything you ask.
“[His] blood pressure doesn’t change when he goes on the field. That’s nice.”
One man isn’t surprised by this. That guy on the phone in Dallas. The one with the cleats. Even as Ogletree’s opportunities dwindled in Dallas, that guy saw it.
That guy, of course, is his buddy Bryant.
“Very quick, very explosive,” Bryant said. “Have a great set of hands and can also, as well, stretch the field. He just, whenever Kev got his opportunities, he made the most out of them.
“Kevin Ogletree, he’s a monster on the field when he gets his opportunities.”
Now it is merely a question of how much he actually gets out there.