The Detroit Lions, for now, have two healthy tight ends: Brandon Pettigrew and Eric Ebron. They were only carrying three on their roster, but the ankle injury to Joseph Fauria during an off-field activity Wednesday night leaves the Lions light at the position.
And it could change the dynamic of a Detroit offense trying to discover its rhythm.
While Fauria isn’t a massive loss on paper – he only has three catches this season and his touchdown production is way down from his rookie season – it does shift what the Lions are likely to do on offense. Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said Friday that Fauria’s absence will likely force the Lions to use different positional groupings on the field.
Considering Detroit has enjoyed using two-tight end sets often this season, this could mean a shift to more three-receiver looks, at least in the immediate term. This would seem to benefit both Jeremy Ross – the team’s de facto slot receiver – and potentially Ryan Broyles, who has been inactive for the first three games.
This would seem to be how Detroit would likely handle things this week, even if they choose to bring up tight end Jordan Thompson or fullback Emil Igwenagu, who has played tight end, from the practice squad. While looking at fullbacks, Fauria’s injury could mean an increased role for either Jed Collins or Montell Owens if the team needs another blocker or route-runner with some size.
Positionally, those are the likely ways Detroit will replace Fauria on Sunday. Depending how long he is out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team look at the free agent wire for tight ends as early as Monday.
For Sunday, though, Fauria’s absence ensures a larger role for first-round pick Ebron, who has been splitting reps with Fauria as the No. 2 tight end behind Pettigrew the past three weeks. Those snaps, theoretically, are now all Ebron’s.
On Thursday, Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said at some point he expected Ebron to eventually have a big role in the Detroit offense.
Now, the Lions have little choice but to use him.