the Detroit Lions will kick off training camp at the end of the month, and at Pride of Detroit we’re doing everything we can to get you ready. This is the latest in a series of articles on POD that focuses on training camp battles. If you missed any of the previous articles, be sure to check out:
Put the table at the end
TJ Hockenson is expected to be the focal point of the Lions offense in 2021, and rightly so. After tearing the ligaments in her ankle At the end of his rookie season, Hockenson was limited in his training last offseason, but he continued to have a Pro Bowl season and is billed this offseason as one of the NFL’s top five tight ends. His 2020 stats – 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns – seem to be the ground for him this season.
The Lions have targeted Josh Hill to be their TE2 this offseason, but just months after signing a one-year contract, Hill chose to retire from the NFL. The Lions quickly moved on to sign Darren Fells – one of the NFL’s best tight blocks – as a replacement, and he’s already settled into his role with the team, understanding that his job is to help Hockenson thrive.
“(Hockenson) is more of a tight F end – faster, moving, receiving – and I’m more of a tight Y end, where I can go in and do a little more dirty work,” Fells said during mini-camp. . “I’ve had the conversation with him before, that if we’re both in there I’ll be like an extra lineman for him, to give him time to open up, so he can wear this total hit up to 12. “
Hunter Bryant was the alleged leader of the TE3 post before the offseason, but an undisclosed injury away from the Lions’ training center in Allen Park put an end to that thought process. Under NFL rules, the Lions weren’t able to place him directly in the injured reserve and instead had to release him first and hope he cleared the waivers, which he did. . Then he came back to the Lions list and they put him on the reserve / NFI list.
At the moment, we have no idea whether Bryant is injured or how long he will be out, but when coaches discuss the narrow room, his name is no longer among the contenders for the role of TE3, which suggests that he could be away for a considerable time. time.
Therefore, beyond Hockenson and Fells, the last tight roles are definitely up for grabs.
Previously in this series, I reviewed the initial lists of 53 The Los Angeles Rams (GM Brad Holmes), Saints of New Orleans (coach Dan Campbell), and Los Angeles Chargers (Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn) to help connect the dots on how Lions can approach each position group.
The Rams have kept four ends tight on their initial roster, and while only three have played this season, all four have remained on the active roster. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett were the fourth and fifth most targeted players, with 44 and 41 catches, respectively. The other tight end who played was Johnny Mundt, who caught just four assists for 10th place among the team’s wide receivers. Rookie Brycen Hopkins received the Rams’ Logan Stenberg treatment: a fourth-round pick who has been active in five games, has only played two snaps this season but has been kept on the roster so he doesn’t get poached by another NFL team.
Structure of rams: guarded 4, used three like TE1A, TE1B, TE3
The Saints have kept three ends tight and all three have remained on the roster throughout the season. Jared Cook was fourth over the Saints with 37 receptions, Adam Trautman was ninth with 15 and Hill was 11th with eight catches. While targets indicate that there was a clear TE1-3 in New Orleans, there was really a TE1 and then two TE2s based on the number of snaps, as Trautman was a traditional option and Hill was a versatile choice which could line up all over the field.
Structure of the saints: Guarded 3, TE1, TE2A, TE2B
The Chargers also kept four tight ends, but they pitched Hunter Henry as a true TE1 option, making him their second most targeted player (60 receptions). None of the other three made more than 10 receptions, and all were 10th options or less. Regarding the distribution of snaps, Henry received the majority (78%), while Virgil Green (TE2) was injured early in the season (12%). This left Donald Parham (19%) and Stephen Anderson (12%) to see their opportunities increase. Having four tight ends on the roster made it easy for the team to overcome Green’s injury, saving them the trouble of adding another player to replace him.
Chargers structure: Kept 4, TE1, TE2, TE3, TE4
Arrange the Lions room
None of the models above accurately reflect the talent of the Lions team. Therefore, it’s fair to expect a mix of systems, especially those of the Saints (where Campbell coached the narrow room) and the Chargers who both featured genuine TE1 options.
“We have two vets there and five young guys who are hungry and sensing the opportunity,” Lions coach TE Ben Johnson said. “… Each of these guys brings something different to the table, in terms of skills. I can’t wait to see how they complement each other because it’s a bit of a puzzle how we put this piece together. We don’t want three tight ends to catch the passes. We don’t want three tight ends that block the race. We want the best mix that makes us the biggest threat here on offense. “
So, depending on how things go in training camp, the Lions will need at least a TE3 who can complement Hockenson and Fells, and potentially a TE4 who can play a variety of roles.
The “five young people”
During OTAs and minicamp, the Lions regularly deployed Alize Mack as a third option in the 7v7 rotation. Mack has shown athleticism and consistency and is likely entering the fall as a prime candidate for the role of TE3. He would give the Lions a traditional tight end who could help as a blocker, in special teams, and could fill a TE2 role if injured.
Jake Hausmann, a UDFA from Ohio state, flashed at camp in the spring and got into the race for a role. He’s a solid blocker, can contribute to special teams, and has the potential to line up as an H-back – something the Lions will keep their eyes on with Hill no longer on the roster. He will challenge the TE3 position, but if the Lions retain a TE4, Hausmann’s versatility and blocking prowess could make him the first clubhouse leader.
Brock Wright, a UDFA from our Lady, has similar skills to Hausmann (blocker with H-back potential), but is also a top athlete, which gives him an attractive advantage. He hasn’t flashed at camp yet, but the potential is there for a development role.
Charlie Taumoepeau secured a contract with the Lions after a try at the rookie minicamp and his ability to potentially contribute as an H-back will give him a chance for a TE4 role or on the practice squad.
Hunter Thedford signed a futures contract in January, but the former 6-foot-6, 274-pound defensive end is still developing in that position.
How the Lions approach the latter part of the narrow room is really unknown at this time. Hockenson is the clear TE1, Fells the clear TE2, but after that a lot will be determined during training camp. I firmly believe the Lions won’t come into camp thinking they need to have three or four tight ends on the roster, but instead let their play on the field determine how many they keep on the roster.
So, are they going to stick to just three tight ends?
Do they want a traditional TE or a capable H-back player in that role?
Or will their desire for both open the door to TE4?
For now, I pencil in four tight ends in my 53-person depth chart and give them both options, although I’m far from convinced that will happen. So far this offseason, Mack has presented himself as a traditional TE3 option and has the inside track for work on my mind. At the same time, I think Hausmann can play a versatile role as TE4.
If they decide to keep just one, it will be one of the tightest lineup battles in training camp.