ALLEN PARK — Overall the Lions offense has not changed drastically from 2017, with the exception of tight end. Three new faces, three new skillsets.
The Lions open the season against the N.Y. Jets on Monday night at Ford Field.
Eric Ebron and his 53 catches and four touchdowns in 2017 are gone to the Colts. Darren Fells, who had 17 catches for 177 yards and three touchdowns, is now a Cleveland Brown.
Meet Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts and Hakeem Valles.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week he’s still plugging those guys into different spots.
“I think we’re still keeping an open mind about maybe who our best guy is to do certain things or best combination of guys to work together to do certain things,’’ Cooter said this week. “So, we’re encouraged with the guys we have in that room. … We have a versatile group of tight ends, so it does sometimes change the play-calling from when you’re sort of sticking one certain guy in one certain role and one certain other guy in another certain role. We have guys who can do multiple things well.’’
Lions tight ends coach Chris White said this week he doesn’t consider any of them his No. 1 guy. Coach Matt Patricia agrees.
“That has really become a multiple position, I would say in the last eight years, where you might have two guys that are really ‘starters’ or ‘No. 1 guys.’ So, I think there are a lot of personnel groups where multiple tight ends are used. Sometimes one tight end is used in certain situations, sometimes another tight end is used in a different situation,’’ Patricia said on Saturday.
He compares the tight end position to linebackers.
“There are inside linebackers, outside linebackers, there are different types of players in those positions that need to be utilized in different situations,’’ Patricia said. “I think all those guys are doing a real good job though, like I said, really through camp competing for different spots and responsibilities and playing time. So, we’ll keep pushing that with that group.”
In 2017, the Lions scored 29 passing touchdowns with seven of them caught by tight ends.
Willson spent the last five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2017, he finished with 15 catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns playing in all 16 games. Over the five seasons, he averaged 17.8 catches a year.
Toilolo spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. Last season he had a dozen catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. He’s No. 2 on the depth chart behind Willson.
Only Roberts returns from last season when he was a rookie who had four catches for 46 yards.
Valles played in one game for the Lions in 2017 and 11 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. He has never caught a pass in the NFL regular season, although was impressive in the preseason games against second and third defenses which earned him a spot on the roster.