By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Michael Roberts’ forearms are covered in tattoos, telling the tale of his tough upbringing and providing him with daily inspiration.
The Detroit Lions rookie right end memorializes his grandma, who died from cancer in 2011, on his right forearm which also has “perseverance,” written in black ink along with one of his favorite quotes.
“If you’re content with letting your dreams remain dreams, then your reality will forever be a nightmare,” Roberts said Wednesday , reciting the tattooed message.
Roberts’ left forearm is adorned with “resilience,” and an angel wing. He’s thinking about a way to pay tribute to his younger brother, who was accidently shot and killed while they were growing up in Cleveland. Roberts’ father was not a part of his life because he was in jail, adding another obstacle for a young man with a speech impediment who was often suspended from school until he got help dealing with his attention deficit disorder.
“I never really had a father around and you can’t miss something you never had,” he said softly. “Losing my grandma and brother, so close together, was so hard. There’s nothing that can help you with that other than time and maybe therapy. I had a choice to make when it happened my senior year in high school. I had to decide if I was going to finish high school, or not. That sounds crazy because of where I am now, but that was an option for me because I went through so much and I didn’t know if I wanted to deal with it.”
Roberts did decide to continue his education and graduated from high school, but instead of playing for a high-profile program such as Ohio State, LSU or Louisville, he ended up at Toledo after being ruled academically ineligible.
“It turned out to be a blessing,” he said.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Roberts set a school record with the Rockets last season with 16 TD receptions, the highest total by a tight end in the nation last season. The Lions liked what they saw from him on film and heard from him during interviews, drafting him in the fourth round to give them another player at the position if Eric Ebron is injured.
As usual, Ebron is hurt. And, he’s ahead of last year’s pace.
Ebron was injured during in Detroit’s first practice with an apparent hamstring injury, a little less than a year after a lower right leg injury in a public practice at Ford Field led to the tight end missing the preseason.
The Lions were confident enough in Ebron’s ability to stay healthy and productive that they exercised an option to pick up the fifth year of his contract in May, keeping him under contract through the 2018 season. They can’t afford, though, to simply believe he’ll bounce back from his latest ailment and play every game because he hasn’t done it in his three-year NFL career.
Detroit drafted Ebron No. 10 overall in 2014 and injuries have slowed him down, limiting him to appearing in 13-plus games a year.
While the Lions wait for Ebron to get healthy and Roberts to adjust to the NFL, they may lean on an intriguing player they signed during the offseason.
Darren Fells played basketball in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before signing with Seattle in 2013. The 6-7, 318-pound tight end went on to play the past three seasons for the Arizona Cardinals. The 31-year-old Fells has primarily been used to block, but he insisted the 24 receptions and four TD passes he had over three seasons with the Cardinals wasn’t representative of what he can do as a receiver.
“Yeah, I can catch it if I get opportunities to and I think I will more here,” Fells said.
The Lions also have other prospects at the position, including Khari Lee and Cole Wick, getting extra snaps to show what they can do early in training camp.
“That’s kind of the approach that we take, just in terms of every position where we may have a guy who’s out for a little bit,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said.
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