By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell would not divulge Monday who among the wide receivers has stood out to him in the competition for the third, fourth and fifth spots behind starters Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.
Instead, the coach outlined the criteria for those positions.
“Ability to catch it, block, understand your assignments thoroughly, understand how to deal with spacial awareness and zone, be able to create some space when they’re in man-to-man and obviously be a little versatile too because oftentimes you don’t play just the exact same spot all the time,” Caldwell said.
During the first two preseason games the Lions have gotten to see more of the contenders for those third, fourth and fifth wide receivers spots because of the absence of Johnson, whom the team named a healthy scratch both times. Johnson missed two games last season for injury, and he had surgery on a finger and a knee in the offseason.
Tate said keeping Johnson out of the early games made sense because it helps keep him healthy and also gives the team a chance to further evaluate the younger guys at the position.
“It’s been a great opportunity for the young guys to shine,” Tate said. “Some of those balls that would have been going to him are going other places. It’s giving other guys opportunities to make plays, and you’re just really starting to see who can help us this year, what guys do best, and it’s been working out.”
The group of players competing for the other wide receiver spots includes Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham, Patrick Edwards, Corey Fuller, Kevin Ogletree, Andrew Peacock and Jeremy Ross.
Entering his sixth year in the league, Ogletree has the most experience of the bunch and has looked sharp in training camp. He joined the Lions four games into last season and grabbed 13 receptions for 199 yards in 12 games. With the benefit of an entire offseason of working with the Lions – a luxury he did not have last year – Ogletree is expected to have more of a defined role instead of only filling in for all the regulars.
Durham, who caught 38 passes for 490 yards last season, played in all 16 games in 2013. Broyles, a second-round draft pick in 2012, played just six games before getting injured last year but looked solid up until then, recording eight catches for 85 yards.
Ross has a place on the team because of his prowess as a returner, but he hopes to have an expanded role in the offense after catching five passes for 59 yards in 2013. Peacock is a rookie, while Edwards is a second-year player who turned in five catches for 46 yards in 2013.
Fuller played on Detroit’s practice squad last season and caught the game-winning touchdown in the Lions’ first preseason game. TJ Jones, whom the Lions drafted in the sixth round this season, is still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and is thus unlikely to make the squad.
Tate talked at length about Broyles, who has been working toward a comeback following another season spoiled by serious injury. Tate also likes what he has seen from some of the young wide receivers.
“I wish I could have seen Fuller last year because I hear he’s night and day,” Tate said. “He’s become a great athlete on this team, on special teams and obviously at the receiver position. He’s been making a lot of big plays, and we are to the point where we look for him. When we need a big play, we’re going to set up Fuller to make that play.
“Durham is very consistent, he’s going to do his job, he’s going to make the catch he needs to make, and he’s going to get first downs for you,” Tate continued. “Peacock, Peacock’s really been exciting to watch. He’s similar in size to me – not the fastest guy, not the quickest, but he finds ways. He’s strong. He finds ways to get open. He makes the plays he’s supposed to make. His effort’s been through the roof, and it’s fun to watch him.”
Tate expects the cuts at the position to be difficult because he has confidence in the group as a whole right now.
“Our whole position, I feel like if Calvin or myself were to go down, I feel like our younger guys could hold it down,” Tate said.
“We have guys who can go deep, guys can gain separation at the line of scrimmage, guys who can run really good breaking routes, guys who are good after the catch, so it’s going to be hard to come down to I guess the six or seven guys that make the team because we have so much talent, and we have so many different dynamics to this team,” Tate added. “We’ll see.”