By: Will Burchfield
“We said it in the meetings,” Anquan Boldin recalled, thinking back to the Lions’ offensive get-togethers during training camp. “It’s going to take all hands on deck.”
For the Lions’ offense, the number of hands has dwindled in recent weeks. In the same time, it seems Boldin’s have gotten bigger.
With the team’s starting tight end and its top three running backs unavailable in Week 6, the 36-year-old wide receiver caught eight passes for 60 yards and a touchdown in the Lions’ 31-28 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
But he rejected the notion that he’s raised his level of play in the wake of injuries.
“I don’t think my role has changed,” Boldin said. “I’m going to come out and give you what I have every game, no matter who’s in there, who’s not. My mindset doesn’t change at all.”
Fair enough. But it’s hard to imagine where the Lions offense would be right now without Boldin, who has provided quarterback Matthew Stafford a safety valve in the slot and a reliable target in the red zone – a role frequently filled by a team’s tight end.
Since Eric Ebron went down in Week 4, Boldin has caught 12 of 13 passes for 108 yards, and the bulk of that production has come in important moments.
“He’s made some big plays for us, he’s made some big catches,” said safety Glover Quin. “He’s a big target across the middle, working in the middle of the defense, keeping the chains moving, that’s big, that’s huge, especially down in the red zone.”
Few receivers are as fearless in traffic as Boldin. Where some of his peers shy away from physical contact, Boldin seems to relish it.
“Definitely,” he said. “I think that plays into the way that I play.”
“Oftentimes,” said Jim Caldwell, “he dishes out a little bit more punishment than he takes.”
Listed at 6’1 and 220 pounds, Boldin isn’t especially big by the standards of his position. But he plays like a giant, fighting off defenders in the air and charging through the teeth of opposing defenses.
“A big man in a smaller man’s body,” Caldwell likes to call him.
Boldin, in typical fashion, downplayed his ability to make plays under pressure.
“For us as receivers, that’s our job: catch the ball, point blank,” he said. “No matter if a guy is on you, if a guy’s going to hit you or if you’re wide open, your job is to catch the ball.
“If you’re worried about getting hit playing football, you don’t need to be playing this sport.”
Boldin isn’t limited to playing in the slot. He is comfortable wherever he lines up, embodying the versatile nature of the Lions’ offense.
“We end up in different places. Any guy can be inside, any guy can be outside, we all move around. For me, I’ve done that my entire career so it’s nothing new,” he said.
But he has thrived in a tight-end role of late, helping the Lions succeed with Ebron on the shelf. And when Ebron returns, be it this week or sometime later, one has to figure Boldin will remain an integral part of the team’s offense.
“Whenever your number is called you have to make a play and that’s something that creates more opportunities for you,” he said. “When your number’s called and you come through, guys are going to come back to you.”