NFL Nation: Golden Tate

He was the team's most high-profile free agent signing and felt after he hurt his shoulder in the spring he would be ready to go by training camp. Golden Tate, though, won't be ready to go.

Ansah
Tate
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This isn't quite a cause for concern yet, as there has not been an indication the injury is serious by any stretch. Tate played in a charity softball game in June, after the injury occurred and has not given any indication it will keep him out long term.

Still, the Detroit Lions can't be happy to see their No. 2 receiver and a player they gave a five-year contract to on the shelf to start training camp, especially since he and the rest of the team are still learning a complex offense helmed by new coordinator Joe Lombardi.

Tate indicated when he injured the shoulder he had a good amount of the playbook and terminology picked up and was taking mental reps to try and replicate his physical ones. And he has the intelligence to understand the offense even quicker.

The bigger concern if he is out for any length of time during the preseason is his chemistry with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Timing and rapport takes repetitions both Tate and TJ Jones -- also on the active physically unable to perform list -- will be missing with each practice they have to sit out.

For Jones, starting camp on PUP isn't a surprise after he indicated earlier this week his shoulder still wasn't 100 percent. Of the three players on PUP to start the season, he may be the one on there the longest considering he had surgery not too long ago and will be playing catch-up from the jump with other receivers.

Then there's Ezekiel Ansah, who missed all of spring workouts. He's a player the Lions will likely be cautious with. Ansah battled injuries throughout last season and this particular shoulder ailment was something the team recognized before it drafted him.

In addition to the shoulder, Ansah had a concussion and an ankle injury during his first season. Considering the team let Willie Young go in free agency, it needed a healthy Ansah to complement the interior play of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley once the season begins.

The secondary benefit for other players is the chance to impress. The biggest beneficiaries of these players starting training camp on the PUP list will be Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Jeremy Ross -- who will likely be competing for a reserve outside receiver role, although Ross can also play in the slot.

On the defensive side, rookie Larry Webster could see extended repetitions in Ansah's absence along with hybrid defensive end/linebacker Darryl Tapp and even Devin Taylor, who will be competing for a starting spot at the closed defensive end position with Jason Jones.

As long as Tate and Ansah are ready to go by the middle of camp to get the reps needed to ramp up for the start of the season, this could end up being a benefit for Detroit to give other players competing for roster spots even more of an opportunity to prove themselves.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
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NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Everything is still a bit of learning for Golden Tate. He’s in a new city with a new coaching staff and a new offense.

He’s missed time to go to the White House to be honored with his former Seattle teammates and also at least part of the past week of Detroit Lions practice due to a sore shoulder. So the wide receiver, the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition this offseason, is still in the process of picking everything up as he adjusts to his new life.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
AP Photo/Paul SancyaMatthew Stafford hasn't been the only player to have questions in the Lions' new offense.
And considering his time away to meet President Barack Obama and the injury, he’s doing pretty well with it.

“I think I understand the majority of the material. I think I understand the concepts. I’d say around 70, 80 percent,” Tate said. “The last 30 will really be understanding how to run their routes and how it’s supposed to be executed.”

Tate has spent practices where he's run routes without wearing a helmet and bothering the coaches after plays to help explain things to him so he can learn even while he’s on the sidelines. This isn’t uncommon, but it's part of him pushing forward from his current 70-80 percent understanding rate.

When that comes is unknown, although it’ll almost definitely be before the end of the first week of training camp when the Lions reconvene this summer to actually prepare for the season. This has been the commonplace answer when it comes to Detroit’s new offense and somewhat commonplace among the team’s skill position players.

There’s a lot there to learn, from positioning to phrasing. The combination of having to forget what they once knew by rote will take time, especially when it is being replaced by similar things with different names.

It’s something the Lions' quarterback, Matthew Stafford, had issues with early during the offseason workouts. Even offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted to sometimes forgetting exactly what he was calling because he was so ingrained in what New Orleans, his former team, used to call everything.

And the Lions, even though they are using a lot of the things the Saints have done, will absolutely use different terms.

“You know, there’s a time where I’m calling a play and I’m like, ‘Dang it, that’s not what we call it anymore,’" Lombardi said. “We’re all dealing with that a little bit, but that just comes with reps and time.

“By the time we hit August it’s going to be second-nature to everybody. It’s a bigger issue in May than it’s going to be in July, August and certainly September.”

Even though it is taking time to learn and even though Tate hasn’t been out there, what he has seen thus far has been on the same level as what he expected when he signed his contract in March. He likes the pacing. He likes the personnel.

It’s just getting everything down.

“This is a very, very fast-paced offense. I’m having fun,” Tate said. “I’m still trying to learn the plays to running those routes where Coach Lombardi wants them. It’s another challenge and I think I respond well to challenges.

“I’m just trying to get as good as I can in this offense so once late July comes, early August, it’s not really that learning process.”

He and the rest of the offense are all doing that together.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Detroit Lions' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith Golden Tate flanking Calvin Johnson, the Detroit wide receiver depth has greatly improved.
Best move: The Lions desperately needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps and making Golden Tate the biggest priority of the free-agent period ended up being a smart move for the club. They signed a player who can complement Calvin Johnson as well as having some of the best hands in the league. As a bonus, he is a really competent blocker who plays above his size.

Riskiest move: Detroit opted to not go after an impact cornerback during free agency and then waited until the fourth round to draft one earlier this month. Why is this a risk? It means Detroit is trusting that one of its unproven cornerbacks (Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood) or one of the players who was inconsistent last season (Chris Houston, Darius Slay) will be prepared to make the jump or return to form in 2014.

Most surprising move: The Lions declined Nick Fairley’s fifth-year option for a seemingly baffling reason. Detroit wanted to use it to try to motivate the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle to improve his game. In doing so, they essentially could be letting him walk out the door. There was no downside for Detroit in picking up Fairley’s option. It is not a guaranteed option and considering the unresolved contract situation surrounding Ndamukong Suh, it could leave the Lions without either of their top two defensive tackles come 2015.

Everything focused on Stafford: One of the biggest themes of the offseason was finding help for quarterback Matthew Stafford, now entering his sixth season with Detroit. The Lions signed him a new target in Tate, drafted him a new tight end in Eric Ebron and brought back a familiar comfort player in Brandon Pettigrew. It hired a coaching staff full of quarterback experience, from head coach Jim Caldwell (worked with Peyton Manning) to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (worked with Drew Brees) to quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter (worked with Manning). In a league driven by quarterback play, the Lions placed a lot of their 2014 focus on making sure Stafford can do as well as he can.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions finished up their first open practice of the organized team activities period Wednesday afternoon – and after Ndamukong Suh dropped that he controlled his own draft fate in 2010 – there are other things to get to.

Here are some observations and thoughts after watching the Lions' practice under head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin for the first time.
    Vaughn
  • The defense appears faster and certainly more excited than anything I remember from last season. They celebrated plays a lot and seemed to be a fairly cohesive unit throughout the practice. They also seemed to be playing a lot better than the offense throughout the majority of Wednesday’s practice, from individual periods to team periods.They seemed sharper, from a couple of interceptions of the first and second groups to just being more aggressive throughout the practice.
  • Of those players, cornerback Cassius Vaughn stood out heavily. He made a beautiful break on intercepting a Dan Orlovsky pass and had it been a real game, Vaughn might have scored on the play. He seemed to be aggressive and realizing there was an opportunity to be had with Chris Houston and Chris Greenwood both out of practice Wednesday.“At this point in time, he’s been here with us for a while,” Caldwell said of Vaughn. “He’s a guy that loves to play and he loves to tell you about it once in a while as he’s playing. But nevertheless, he’s a guy that’s working extremely hard trying to win a spot on this team. He does bring some energy.”It’s only one practice, but if Vaughn keeps playing as he did Wednesday, he may end up in contention for a roster spot come the fall.
  • Calvin Johnson did not look like his typically sharp self. He dropped a couple of passes and looks like he is still finding his way into playing shape. Don’t forget, he did have offseason surgery and it is May – so nothing to be concerned about yet. Also not looking particularly precise was quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was intercepted by Stephen Tulloch on one play and had a couple of other balls dropped.
  • Michael Williams is going to have to put on some weight – and he knows it. He said after practice he probably needs to add another 15 to 20 pounds – he’s put on six to seven already – and hasn’t played offensive tackle in his life. Yet playing tackle instead of tight end might end up being his best path to a roster spot in the fall and in the future, so it makes sense for him to make that switch.
  • DeAndre Levy’s beard is intense – that much was known beforehand – but he looks like he could end up building well off of last season’s breakout season. He seems pretty comfortable already and in strong shape. This is going to be important for Detroit’s defense this season.
  • Was also impressed by the size of undrafted free-agent safety Jerome Couplin. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, but when I noticed him in the defensive backfield, he didn’t look like your typical safety. He’s longer, rangier and perhaps has a longer stride than most of your typical defensive backs. He almost looks more like a taller receiver than someone in the defensive backfield. He’s going to end up being a player to watch in contention for a roster spot at points during this camp.
  • Jeremy Ross also looks like he has improved from a season ago. Possibly a bit bigger – especially in his arms – and perhaps with a little bit more speed as well.
Other notes:
  • Golden Tate was not at the Lions’ open practice Wednesday. He was a bit busy with other things – like going to the White House with his old team, Seattle, to meet President Barack Obama.
  • Others not participating (in at least some extent) were running back Joique Bell, defensive end Kourtnei Brown, cornerback Chris Greenwood, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, left guard Rob Sims, linebacker Brandon Hepburn, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and cornerback Chris Houston. Of those players, only Houston, Tate and Fairley were not spotted as at least being in attendance. Some of these players participated in walk-throughs or individual drills.
  • The Lions have one more organized team activity in this period – Thursday – before being off for the weekend.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He waffled a little bit during his first question in front of the media as a Detroit Lions player and in theory it should have been an easy one for receiver TJ Jones.

Periods between the letters in his preferred first name or not? This, apparently, is not a clear-cut answer.

“Ehh. It’s kind of a preference, I guess,” Jones said. “TJ really stands for Tai-ler Jones. It’s, I don’t put periods in it. No periods.”

[+] EnlargeT.J. Jones
AP Photo/Joe RaymondLions rookie receiver TJ Jones, a former Notre Dame standout, said he's looking forward to learning from the likes of Calvin Johnson.
The name change happened when he arrived at Notre Dame, deep southern drawl and all. It turned meeting new people at the school more difficult in some ways. Not because of his personality, but the way he said his name and the alternative spelling it has.

He would say it ‘Tyyyla’ because he’s from the south and that’s how he always spoke. So for the sake of comfort and not having to constantly correct people or here his name differently, he shortened it. Tai-ler, for the public, became TJ.

“Behind the spelling, my mother’s from Korea so they wanted to go with a more different, unique spelling,” Jones said. “So the Tai is like Taiwan and there’s actually a dash in between to space it out.

“It really started my senior year of high school and my first semester at Notre Dame, they were calling me Trailer, Taileer, Taylor, anything you can think of with that arrangement of letters.”

While he took care of his name issue early on, people started to find out who he was by his junior season, when he caught 50 passes for 649 yards as a junior and then as a senior, where he had 70 catches for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns.

He also had two rushing touchdowns his senior season, and general manager Martin Mayhew specifically cited his ability to make plays in critical situations and his hands after the team drafted him in the sixth round last weekend.

Due to his size – he’s generously listed at 6-foot – he has started working with the Lions in the slot rather than on the outside, mostly because on the outside Detroit has Calvin Johnson and potentially Eric Ebron. Both of them have a bit more height than he does.

“It’s kind of hard to compete with that,” Jones said. “With a jump ball with them.”

He started working with some of those players this week, although he admitted he didn’t really know what he was doing in the few plays he ran with the first unit. That’s part of being a rookie, though, something Jones understands and is trying to embrace.

“At first it was a little overwhelming,” Jones said. “It’s kind of a dream come true to have such greats surrounding you. You know, after the first time it is this is what you need to expect.

“This is something you have to get used to because if you want to play next year, if I want to get on the field, I’m going to be surrounded by them.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After the Detroit Lions hired Joe Lombardi earlier this season and the new offensive coordinator made it obvious he was going to pattern the team after what he learned in New Orleans, the thought of Jimmy Graham has been prevalent.

When the Lions spurned defense Thursday night to take tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of the NFL draft -- despite already having two capable tight ends on the roster, a fairly deep draft class at the position and major needs on defense -- it focused the team's dependence on the position even more.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsEric Ebron gives Detroit the option of running more three-tight-end sets.
Then Lombardi mentioned something more interesting. When asked about the role tight end Joseph Fauria could still provide, he said he could envision the Lions lining up three tight ends on the field at one time. In the past, that type of package typically has meant a jumbo-type set designed for short-yardage or goal-line offense.

Not now. Not in Detroit.

The Lions could use three tight ends all across the field. Between Lombardi's talk about the formation and the six tight ends currently on the roster, it's clear there will be more emphasis on the position overall.

"Listen, Joseph is still going to have a strong role in the red zone," Lombardi said. "There is nothing to say that we aren't going to have three tight ends on the field at some point."

In Lombardi's five years with New Orleans, where he was primarily the quarterbacks coach, the Saints played 141 snaps with three tight ends on the field at once, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They ran the ball 69 times out of that set and also completed 44 of 71 passes in those five seasons.

The team used it the most in 2013, for 49 snaps, scoring seven touchdowns when three tight ends were on the field. The Saints completed 16 of 32 passes with a three-tight-end look last season, good for 185 yards and four touchdowns. Interestingly, 100 of those yards were after the catch, likely signifying it wasn't only used in the red zone.

Ten of those 16 catches in the formation went to tight ends.

At the very least, drafting Ebron probably means the definitive end of the favored formation under then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan last season, which was one running back, three wide receivers and Brandon Pettigrew somewhere on the field.

Now, it could be Calvin Johnson, Ebron, Pettigrew and Golden Tate lining up a bit of everywhere. So don't think Ebron will be primarily in the slot. At North Carolina last season, Ebron caught the majority of his passes lined up as a wide receiver.

"I never want to say primarily anything," Lombardi said. "He is going to line up all over the place and you are going to have to find him. That's kind of one of our goals in not wanting to be predictable for defenses.

"We don't want them to say, 'Calvin is always here, we know how to deal with it.' You just want to keep mixing it up so the defense can never really hone in on what your plan is."

Realistically, Detroit is not going to sit Ebron or Pettigrew very often -- not after drafting Ebron in the first round and guaranteeing Pettigrew $8 million of his new four-year deal. So the multiplicity of the Lions' offense in 2014 could give Detroit a crazy amount of options. It can use anything from two-back sets with Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, to three- and four-receiver sets, to sets with one, two or three tight ends at once.

This is probably why the Lions felt comfortable drafting offense so early at the expense of addressing the defense.

Detroit will likely cater its offensive plan to what Ebron can do once he arrives this week and starts working in rookie minicamp this weekend. Once the Lions see how well he runs, and how far away his blocking or in-line capabilities might be, then they can further assess his value.

If the team really does view him as what he was at North Carolina, which was a bulkier, taller wide receiver with a tight end designation, Detroit could place him anywhere on the field, much like they do with Johnson. It is also highly likely Ebron's role at the start of the season will be different from his role at the end.

He is still learning the position. He only really started playing football his junior year of high school, after he was offered a scholarship by North Carolina following a one-day camp he attended. So his room for growth is large, and as he improves, the opportunities for Detroit's offense are likely to multiply.

Don't expect Ebron to become Graham, though. He was adamant about that after he was drafted. While he might play a similar role in the Detroit offense as Graham does in New Orleans, it isn't fair to compare Ebron to Graham, a converted basketball player.

If you're looking for a clue of how he'll be utilized, and how the Lions might end up using their tight ends, New Orleans is a good place to start.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Eric Ebron made something very clear Thursday evening a few minutes into his first chat with the Detroit media.

He is not Jimmy Graham. So if you're hoping for Jimmy Graham, it's not happening just yet. Except that he expects to be used like Jimmy Graham was used in New Orleans by new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

"I don’t have no similarities to Jimmy Graham," Ebron said. "I mean, he's a different type of tight end than I am. Very possessive tight end. He’s a great tight end, but I don’t really think I have any similarities to Jimmy Graham."

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
AP Photo/Craig RuttleEric Ebron will add another dimension to Detroit's already-potent passing attack.
Of course, if he can end up close to what Graham became for the Saints in his career, the Lions would have made the correct call going with offense with their first pick.

This is the hope Detroit had when they selected him. Not that he would become Graham, but that he possessed some of the same qualities the All-Pro has.

"From a skill position player, I think we've got two really good receivers in Calvin [Johnson] and Golden [Tate]. I think the tight end position, who runs like Eric does, because we have two pretty good tight ends as it is," Lombardi said. "But he’s got a different skill set and that just adds a whole new element to your offense, a tight end that can run like that.

"That maybe you can take advantage of a little bit more easily than you can another receiver."

Much like Ebron, neither Lombardi nor general manager Martin Mayhew wanted to make the obvious comparisons to Graham, but Lombardi indicated they plan to use him in a similar way to how New Orleans used Graham.

And Lombardi figures they can move Ebron all over the field, both in the slot and outside in order to keep teams confused and in an effort to free up Johnson and Tate downfield and Reggie Bush and Joique Bell underneath.

It could lead to an exciting offense for Detroit if it all works out as the Lions now have an advantageous offensive situation.

Teams won’t focus on him first when they think about Detroit. Teams might not focus on him second, either, since Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are both pass-catching options for the Lions. So he understands the potential for the Lions’ offense this fall.

That was the thinking behind Detroit going with Ebron over an option on defense.

"It'll give other teams hell, I hope," Ebron said. "Enough hell so that we win the game."

The Lions hope they've finally found the right combination of mismatches that they insist they can have to be a successful offense in a division where the rest of the teams focused on defense in the first round.

"It creates difficulties, especially a guy like Eric, who is well over 240 pounds, that can run extremely well," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "So what it does indeed do is force the defense to make a determination on how you want to play him. Brandon [Pettigrew] is on one side and he is on the other, how are you going to treat him?

“Are you going to treat him like a tight end and leave a linebacker in the game which creates a mismatch in terms of the passing game or are you going to put in a smaller defender which also creates some problems in terms of him being able to leverage that particular player and also in a blocking standpoint and our run game, running in that direction would give us some advantages. Eric on the strong safety will also create some issues as well. All the guys in this league can run but he creates an unusual matchup.”

So Ebron becomes a matchup nightmare for opponents on the best day of his life, both personally and professionally. Not only did he become a top-10 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday, he also got engaged earlier this morning.

Near the top of the Empire State Building, to his girlfriend Brittany Rountree. So not a bad day for Ebron. Not a bad day at all.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He’s able to come in and meet with his coaches now, finally able to pick their brains about what the new Detroit Lions offense will look like. What he might be expected to do under his new coaching staff that he didn’t have to do before.

Already this week, Matthew Stafford has spent time watching old game tape of both the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens offenses to try and learn. He’s studied the routes those receivers ran, the varying plays both teams implemented.

He knows it won’t all be the same and he anticipates having a lot of questions – but it’s a start.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDetroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a fixture in the film room during the offseason.
“It’s exciting. These guys have great track records, have worked with some really great players at the quarterback position, specifically,” Stafford said. “I’ll be picking their brains as much as they’ll allow. Obviously Golden [Tate] is a big-time addition to our team.

“He’s going to be a big contributor this year and we’re excited to have him.”

Much of the offseason has been focused around Stafford because of what happened to Detroit at the end of last season. The Lions collapsed at the end of the 2013 season, eventually costing former coach Jim Schwartz his job, mostly due to an inefficient offense prone on drops from receivers and turnovers from Stafford.

So look at what the Lions did this offseason. They hired a head coach, Jim Caldwell, and quarterbacks coach, Jim Bob Cooter, who has worked with Peyton Manning. They hired an offensive coordinator -- Joe Lombardi -- whose main experience was as the quarterbacks coach for Drew Brees in New Orleans. Their two biggest free-agent signings were pass-catchers – Tate and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. They also brought back another big offensive piece, Joique Bell, to complement Reggie Bush.

The focus has been offensive at almost every turn, all to help Stafford be the best version of himself as a quarterback. He also recognizes for the Lions to be good, he has to be good.

“In the NFL, if your quarterback plays really well, your team generally plays really well, and I understand that. We’re no different than any team,” Stafford said. “The better I play, the better we’ll play as a team. Common theory says that. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do. I want to be as good as I can possibly be, not for myself but to help this team win, and that’s the No. 1 goal.”

Stafford said he has not spoken with Brees about Lombardi but had texted with Manning about Caldwell and the progression Manning made under his former head coach. Since the hiring of this staff, that has been the focus of the questions -- how will they work with Stafford to turn him from a good quarterback with inconsistencies and some accuracy issues into one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

“He’s a sharp guy,” Caldwell said. “He’s smart. He’s dedicated. He wants to be good and still, it’s obviously quite present in his attitude today, yesterday and tomorrow, right? He’s a worker. I have no doubt, with a guy that has that kind of attitude and obviously he has ability, both physically and mentally.

“He has the intellect to do it and I think he’ll be fine.”

Stafford has already put some of the work in by grabbing the old game film to understand the receiver route trees he might now be throwing to as opposed to what he worked with under Scott Linehan. He doesn’t know the terminology yet -- that’ll come -- because the offensive installation has been in meeting-form only thus far.

He knows he needs to improve and make smarter, better decisions. From what he says, he’s committed to doing so. That’ll start now, by making sure he learns as much as possible and asks so many questions it is almost like he’s turning into a reporter.

“I think I can always improve. I’ve had some really great moments, some bad moments, for sure,” Stafford said. “But the biggest thing I want to do is help this team win any way I can. I’m going to be learning a new system and I want to be coached in that system as well as I can.

“I don’t know everything there is to know about this system, for sure, and so I’m going to ask a bunch of questions and do everything as right as I possibly can.”

Detroit’s success depends on it.
 Mike EvansThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsIf Mike Evans is available when the Detroit Lions pick at No. 10, Mel Kiper Jr. would select the Texas A&M wide receiver.
Since the end of the 2013 season, when the Detroit Lions once again found themselves in the familiar position of being in the top 10 of an NFL draft, many questions have been asked about what the team will do with the pick.

Could they trade it and try to move up to nab receiver Sammy Watkins? Could they try to trade back to acquire a position of need – perhaps a cornerback – and also to stockpile picks? If they stay at No. 10, what could happen?

Would they draft a wide receiver? Reach for a corner? Take the best defensive player available or best player available (other than a quarterback) period?

With Detroit not in the market for a starting quarterback this season, the Lions have many, many options available to them a month from now when the NFL draft starts at Radio City Music Hall.

And with so many potential scenarios playing out, I gave one to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last week. Four names, four different positions, one slot – assuming Detroit stays at No. 10 – available. What does he think the Lions would do if wide receiver Mike Evans, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Justin Gilbert were all available at No. 10?

This came on the heels of his Grade A draft last week , when he selected defense for the Lions in the first three rounds. He did that, in part, because he doesn’t seem to believe Evans will be available for Detroit at No. 10.

So what does he think Detroit would do if those aforementioned four players were all sitting there for the Lions?

“If Evans, Barr, Clinton-Dix and Gilbert are there, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Kiper Jr. said. “It’s Mike Evans because he’s the highest-rated player, by a pretty good margin now. I always say, if you’re picking at 10, you have to get a guy who is six, seven or eight. He’s number five on the board right now. Five, six on my board, right on the heels of Sammy Watkins as the second-best receiver in this draft and some may even have Evans ahead of Watkins. He’s a big-time talent. He’s a physical freak.

“People say, well, he reminds some of us of Mike Williams, well, yeah, you could make that argument but he’s much more consistent catching the ball and is more explosive. But there’s always going to be that comparison. So I would say Evans.”

The Lions, of course, drafted Mike Williams in 2005 -- the first draft Martin Mayhew was the assistant general manager for. That selection did not work out too well for the Lions, who were hoping to pair Mike Williams with Roy Williams for a dynamic receiver pairing.

Unlike 2005, receiver isn’t as big of a need position since the team signed Golden Tate to be the team’s No. 2 receiver this offseason.

Kiper went on, though, and explained what he thinks the Lions might do if Evans is unavailable at No. 10 – and considering Tampa Bay traded the other receiving Mike Williams (Syracuse-and-still-in-the-NFL variety) to Buffalo – the Bucs are now in desperate need for a receiver and pick ahead of Detroit.

“Clinton-Dix is still the major need. He’s a hot guy right now and is clearly, I think, the consensus best safety,” Kiper said. “So if you want to stretch it a bit and fill a need, I’m not saying they are stretching because their rating may have Clinton-Dix in the top 10, but I would say just on need alone in a division with Aaron Rodgers and [Jay] Cutler and you know Minnesota is going to address the cornerback spot, I would say they may stretch it a bit for Clinton-Dix if Evans was gone at that point.”

This would be a fairly logical selection for Detroit even though the team signed James Ihedigbo to a two-year deal this offseason to play next to Glover Quin. Ihedigbo will be 31 years old by the end of the season, and if the team can pick someone up to be a third safety this year and a starter by 2015, that scenario would put them in a good position in the defensive backfield for the first time in a long time.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He was on a rival a year ago, unsure about his future in the NFL and not knowing whether he would have a job with the Green Bay Packers for much longer. Jeremy Ross made the roster then fumbled away his opportunity early in the season.

This is all known by now, part of Ross’ past. The receiver/returner in some ways had to go through all of that to find his home now, to get released from Green Bay and then land in Detroit weeks later, first on the practice squad and then as the team’s primary returner when he replaced Micheal Spurlock.

Here he is now a year later, on the first day of voluntary workouts for Detroit, and his role with the Lions appears to be somewhat set. After returning both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season and also being dynamic in his ability to bring back kicks and punts along with being a gunner on punt coverage, he has a place with the Lions.

So now he’s trying to expand on it and work himself into a refurbished receiver rotation behind Calvin Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Ross wants to be more than a special-teams player for the Detroit Lions.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Ross said Monday afternoon after dropping his bags in his car. “My versatility is something good. I can play slot. I can play outside. I can be in the backfield. I can do a lot of different things for the offense.”

While winning one of the receiver slots would increase his standing with Detroit and help to solidify a roster spot come fall, his primary value entering the offseason workouts will be as a returner and special-teams player.

He trained in the offseason for everything, but worked specifically on both his straight-line speed and his ability to change directions quickly. He also worked on his strength and his quickness, the former to help give him a better foundation than he had a season ago.

Last season, Ross essentially was a returner and an occasional offensive player. He played 175 offensive snaps for the Lions last season, caught five passes for 59 yards and dropped two balls. He was also targeted on only 10.2 percent of the routes he ran. He also had two rushes for 40 yards.

His role was smaller last season, though. He was playing behind Johnson, Kris Durham, Nate Burleson and, at points, Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles. He had to, in some ways, wait. Now with a new coaching staff, he can try to move up on his own merit.

“It’s good. New coaching staff. Fresh start,” Ross said. “Everybody’s coming in and coming in to compete. So when they are looking and evaluating, they aren’t going off of previous years. They are seeing what’s in front of them and that’s how they are going to make their decisions.”

That includes the spot where he has worked out the best -- on returns. With the Lions signing Golden Tate in the offseason and Tate expressing a desire to keep returning punts if possible, Ross will have competition from a player the team has invested a lot of money in as both a receiver and, if possible, returner.

Will that change how Ross does things? It won’t. After all, he is in a much better place than a season ago no matter what happens.

“I go out there and I work hard. I don’t really need any external motivation,” Ross said. “I’m pretty motivated.

“So I’ll just continue to do what I do to work on technique, catch balls after practice, watch film, all the things I’ve done in the past to do well.”

Nearly a third of the league inquired about receiver DeSean Jackson, but not all the teams are known. Two of those teams reportedly have fallen out of the race for Jackson -- and both have coaches who previously worked with him (Andy Reid in Kansas City and Marty Mornhinweg with the New York Jets). The assumption is that this sends up red flags about Jackson; that’s not necessarily the case.

And it’s hard to get a good feel on who is really interested. Oakland and Washington definitely are, though to what extent remains to be seen. Jackson arrives in Washington Monday and will visit Tuesday. Thus far, it’s his only reported visit.

San Francisco’s name came up when Jackson was on the trade block and the 49ers had expressed interest in free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate, among others, before he signed with Detroit. So it would make sense that they’d at least inquire about Jackson. Tampa Bay has said they'd take a look, though it was a rather tepid endorsement.

Here’s a little handicap of some teams that have expressed interest or reportedly want to get in the race:

Washington Redskins
Cap space: Approximately $7 million
Why he’d consider: It’s a premier market in a premier conference. Oh, and they get to play the Eagles twice a year. The Redskins would have a lot of speed offensively with Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Jordan Reed and would be a major threat down the field. Add to it an athletic quarterback who can extend plays and the off-schedule explosions would increase. Robert Griffin III’s deep-ball ability will be important -- and his ability to extend plays. Jackson’s agent, Joel Segal, has definitely taken quarterback play into consideration in the past with his receivers. If Jackson is forced to take a one-year, prove-it deal, this especially would be a factor.
Why he wouldn’t: Because other teams can offer more. Washington can’t compete if Jackson’s strong desire is to return to the West Coast and play for the team he grew up rooting for (Oakland). If they want a more proven coach, San Francisco and Tampa Bay have to be a consideration (if the Bucs are strongly interested, which is debatable). And if San Francisco truly is interested, then the 49ers clearly would offer him a better chance for team success. The Redskins still have other needs to address so they can only spend so much, and it's hard to gauge how aggressive they'll be. But the fact that they have the first visit says something.

Buffalo Bills
Cap space: Approximately $13 million
Why he’d consider: They have more cap room than most teams, so they could offer the sort of contract that could get it done now -- if they wanted to go that high. They need what Jackson provides (though many teams do).
Why he wouldn’t: The Bills aren’t a marquee team and their quarterback situation is questionable. EJ Manuel started 10 games as a rookie and showed flashes, but remains unproven. That has to be a strong consideration. None of their receivers had more than 597 yards last season, so how secure could you be? They have a good young talent in Robert Woods, a solid receiver in Stevie Johnson (nagging injuries, however) and a fast young guy in Marquise Goodwin. But that’s not exactly a Hall of Fame trio. The draft has to be an attractive option, so that could limit what the Bills would be willing to offer.

Oakland Raiders
Cap space: Approximately $15 million
Why he’d consider: Because the Raiders were his favorite team growing up and he played college ball at nearby Cal. Jackson is a West Coast kid, and if his desire to return there is strong, then it will be hard to top. The Raiders need help at receiver so Jackson would fill a big hole. Also, the Raiders have more money than the other teams reportedly interested thus far.
Why he wouldn’t: The Raiders have a wait-and-see approach going on and, while they’d like him, they won’t overspend. So if another team is more aggressive, then Jackson could end up elsewhere. Also, other than going back to California, the Raiders aren’t exactly an attractive franchise. Their coach, Dennis Allen, will enter the season on the hot seat and their quarterback, Matt Schaub, is not known for throwing deep all that often. At this point, it’s uncertain if he remains a quality starting quarterback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cap space: Approximately $12 million
Why he’d consider: They have a potentially strong structure with new coach Lovie Smith. He’s a proven coach in the first year of his regime so he’ll be around several years at least. The Bucs have another explosive receiver to pair with Jackson in Vincent Jackson. Both are dangerous down the field. Oh, yeah, and they have the cap room to absorb a bigger contract.
Why he wouldn’t: Smith’s history suggests building around the run game and the defense. Also, they have a journeyman starting quarterback in Josh McCown and a second-year guy in Mike Glennon, whom the new coach did not draft (and replaced right away). So there are questions at this spot. Their interest is said to be lukewarm, so it’s hard to imagine them overspending for Jackson.

San Francisco 49ers
Cap space: Approximately $4 million
Why he’d consider: It’s the best team, it’s near where he played college ball and it puts him back on the West Coast. They need a receiver who can stretch the field to pair with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Jackson would provide that and then some. They also have a big-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can let Jackson run under the ball and remind everyone of his explosiveness. Unlike Washington, the 49ers also have a defense that plays at a championship level, so if Jackson wants to produce and win, this could be the stop.
Why he wouldn’t: The 49ers were reportedly interested in pursuing a trade, according to Pro Football Talk. But their cap number isn’t high and they already have talent at receiver. They could opt for the draft, which is deep at this position and has a few players with Jackson-like qualities (though no one can match his acceleration on deep balls). Hard to know what the reported friction with the 49ers between general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh means for the future of either person and, subsequently, a guy like Jackson.
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.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonGolden 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.

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.

Free-agency review: Lions

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:00
AM ET
A week in, here's a quick review of the free-agency period for the Detroit Lions:

Tate
Tate
Most significant signing: Considering that Detroit has mostly signed depth or re-signed its own free agents, the obvious choice is receiver Golden Tate. The former Seattle Seahawk will complement Calvin Johnson and should take pressure and attention off of the Lions' top receiver. He can also spread the field, has elite hands and can block extremely well for a 5-foot-10 receiver. He plays taller than he is and should be a good addition to Detroit.

Most significant loss: Defensive end Willie Young was a productive player who often became overlooked because of the star power in the middle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) and the emergence of Ziggy Ansah at the other end. But Young is a long, rangy end who was good against the run and showed improvement. That he went to one of Detroit's top rivals, Chicago, adds to the significance because the Lions will see him at least twice a year.

Biggest surprise: That the Lions didn't make a bigger play earlier in the safety market. Like receiver on offense, safety is Detroit's biggest need on defense after the release of Louis Delmas. The team looked like it was interested in Chris Clemons and had reportedly expressed interest in T.J. Ward, but so far the only safety the team has brought in is James Ihedigbo. While Ihedigbo could fill a need if he signs, Detroit could have tried to make a bigger play here considering the market and the need. Unless the Lions draft one.

What's next: Solving the backup quarterback issue. The Lions need to have a veteran behind Matthew Stafford, and Kellen Moore just is not going to be a viable option there right now. Detroit, be it through re-signing Shaun Hill or signing someone like Luke McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick, has to have a player with some experience ready to come in if Stafford were to get hurt. Detroit has too many other pieces to let that be an actual issue.

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