- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Kevin Ogletree wakes up mornings and heads to the practice facility. The Detroit Lions will be practicing later in the day, but Ogletree is in the midst of a fairly difficult competition for a spot at wide receiver on the 53-man roster.
So he knows his conditioning is critical, both in practices during training camp and late in games during the regular season. So he goes on a quick run, 10 minutes on the treadmill and trying to reach around a mile-and-a-half.
Conditioning became his focus during the offseason. He didn’t worry about his route running or his hands – both of which have been reliable in the past – before. He wanted to get his own heart rate up to keep his chances for making the team up as well.
“You can get really far if you’re in better condition than the guy across from you on third down, you know,” Ogletree said. “Two minute drive, late in the game, if you’re feeling better, if your legs are fresher, blood vessels are opened up a little bit more, you train for that.”
The training has worked early on. Ogletree has been one of the standouts of the first few days of training camp. He has consistently been with the first group along with Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson, potentially giving him the inside track to not only a spot on the roster, but a decent role in an offense that should have a lot of passes to go around.
Ogletree caught the attention of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi early during spring workouts, but then the St. Albans, New York, native had an impacted wisdom tooth requiring surgery. The tooth was deep enough that Ogletree had all four wisdom teeth removed, forcing him to miss a week as he was starting to make an impact
Placing himself in position for a role was part of his decision to return to Detroit in the first place. He and re-signing running back Joique Bell were the only deals the Lions made on the first day of free agency, the day before the team signed wide receiver Golden Tate.
Coming back to the Lions, which picked him up after Tampa Bay released him in the middle of last season, was a priority.
“I knew that this was a place that a receiver would beg to be at with Matthew (Stafford) and the rest of the guys we have on offense,” Ogletree said. “Just to have a role on this offense would be the best thing I could ask for.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who places an emphasis on sure-handed receivers, seems impressed with him early and confident enough to move the 6-foot-1 Ogletree both inside to the slot and outside. In his career, Ogletree has a decent drop rate, dropping only 4.3 percent of his targets. That career number is the same as the NFL average in 2013.
How he runs his routes has also caught the eye of coaches and Johnson, who specifically mentioned how smooth Ogletree’s routes are.
“Really has a good understanding of the position,” Caldwell said. “Works at it. Quiet. Hardly says a word, but I really like what we’ve seen from him thus far. He’s been catching the ball consistently, so we anticipate that’s going to carry over.”
If it does carry over, that could put Ogletree in a good position in a tight position battle.
“There’s no animosity toward one another. I’m encouraging Corey (Fuller),” said Kris Durham, one of the receivers he is competing with. “I’m trying to help him get right. Same with Kevin to me and Corey to Kevin. We all want to help each other because we want to become the best player we can to help this team win.”
So how does Ogletree plan to beat the rest of the competition for a job? He won’t let on. Just watch him, he says.
“I’ll show you,” Ogletree said. “I’ll show you.”