Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Tate fits the Lions' profile as a receiver
By Michael Rothstein
DETROIT -- It started with a profile, because pretty much everything with the Detroit Lions these days begins with a conversation to put together the vision in their heads.
Golden Tate, a four-year NFL veteran, will be expected to fill out the Lions' receiver set.
It is how Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew brainstormed the criteria they would like in their next head coach after they fired Jim Schwartz in December. And not surprisingly, it is what they did again when they hit free agency last week.
They all met together -- scouts, coaches and front office staff -- and put together exactly what they would be looking for in each need position in free agency. That included wide receiver, where the Lions have made their biggest move thus far.
“We put together a position profile that says this is the kind of skill set we need to have," Lewand said Monday evening at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “Then you have a profile and these are the guys who are available. Who are the guys that are available in free agency that match that profile and Golden Tate was a guy who matched that profile in that complementary receiver to Calvin (Johnson).
“A guy that brings certain skills."
What were those skills?
Lewand didn't get into specifics when discussing his team's newest receiver acquisition, but by parsing together various statements throughout the past three months from Lewand and new head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions appeared to focus on three factors.
First was hands, and considering Detroit's issues with merely catching the ball a season ago, this became obvious. The Lions dropped 46 passes last season -- 7.5 percent of Matthew Stafford's throws. Tate, meanwhile, has dropped seven passes in his four seasons and has a 2.7 percent drop rate.
So that's an obvious improvement.
“It's very important and that's why we're receivers is because we can catch the ball, although sometimes it might not seem that way," Tate said. “One thing that I did notice from watching (Matthew) Stafford throw the ball (last week) when I was meeting with coach (Joe) Lombardi is that sometimes Stafford will throw a covered guy open.
“What I mean by that is he might throw a back shoulder or throw it high and to the right and I feel like that's one thing I excel at is catching low balls and balls that are outside my frame."
Second was the ability to make contested catches. Tate has no issue doing that, often being able to leap up between cornerbacks and safeties to come down with the ball despite his 5-foot-10 frame. He can fight on the shorter and intermediate routes along with battling cornerbacks on deeper patterns. Going along with that toughness is his ability to block. He is a more than willing blocker and is actually good at it for his size.
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Third was not verbalized, but Caldwell spoke at Tate's introductory news conference that they were looking for someone with leadership and character. Tate grew in these areas during his first four years in the NFL, culminating in winning a Super Bowl last season.
Additionally, he is used to playing alongside another top receiver, as he did that at Notre Dame opposite Michael Floyd, now with Arizona.
So when Detroit brought Tate in last week, it knew what it wanted to accomplish -- and was assisted by the snow.
“We knew there was going to be a snowstorm," Lewand said. "He came in the night before, came in late Tuesday night, and we knew the snow was going to come and it was going to be hard for him to get out to his next destination."
The team woke him up at 6 a.m. -- 3 a.m. on Tate's body clock time -- for his physical and by noon, instead of visiting the stadium, all he wanted was the nap he spoke about at his news conference later last Tuesday.
By then, Detroit knew it received its complementary pass catcher to Calvin Johnson and now any concern shifted from whether he fit the profile the Lions set to how he will fit once the team actually begins practice next month.
So goes the risk with any free agent. Until a team sees how he blends in during practice and what his role ends up being and that he can remain healthy, bringing in new players becomes educated guesswork.
“You want that vision to come to fruition, but there are a lot of different factors," Lewand said. “You don't make or break your team in free agency. You can add strategically."
With the signing of Tate, that's what Detroit believes it did.