By: Will Burchfield
Golden Tate joked, but not really, that he doesn’t want the Lions to sign any more wide receivers in the near future.
“Hopefully we’re good at the receiver position for now, we don’t bring in any outsiders,” Tate said after the team extended Matthew Stafford last month.
His belief in the hands on hand was validated in Week 1.
Despite Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron each being held to two catches, quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for four touchdowns and nearly 300 yards in Detroit’s win over Arizona.
Tate led the way, fighting through a finger injury to nab 10 passes for over 100 yards, but the production behind him was just as important. Kenny Golladay and TJ Jones, locked in a battle throughout preseason for the No. 3 receiver job, combined to post the numbers of a No. 1: six catches, 101 yards, two touchdowns.
If Tate and Marvin Jones are entrenched at the top of the food chain, Golladay and TJ Jones are just as hungry below them.
“We try to fill the role the best that we can. If they’re the one and two, we try to be the one and two at that (No. 3) position,” said TJ Jones. “We don’t want to skip a beat no matter who’s on the field. He makes a play, comes off, boom, I go in and make a play. It should be non-stop. We feed off each other’s energy. We just try to step up and play to the same caliber that we know they’ll play at.”
Golladay provided the lion’s share of the production between he and Jones in Week 1. The rookie caught both touchdowns, and with his 6’4, 220-pound frame he’s likely to catch many more. But don’t discount the impact of the jitterbug Jones. His two receptions, both of which went for 16 yards, extended the drive that set up Golladay’s first touchdown and gave the Lions a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Together, Golladay and Jones are the full package.
“He definitely has the size factor, where I’m more speed-focused, maybe a little shiftier because I’m smaller,” said Jones, 6’0, 190 pounds. “That’s generally the comparison that you have. But, really, you have to be able to cover every type of player between the two of us. I think it’s just trying to work off each other. Certain things he’ll do better than me, and certain things I’ll do better than him. But at the end of the day, just trying to complement each other.”
Jones pointed out that Golladay has some mobility of his own. And Golladay pointed out that Jones is more than just a threat in the flat. Their obvious strengths should not obscure their more subtle ones.
“We kind of just come in the game with the mentality to go out there and make a play,” said Golladay. “We definitely have to do our one-eleventh. We were excited to go in there, and for both of us to bounce in and out and be able to make plays that helped us a lot, we were both pumped up.”
The Lions had five players with at least 50 receptions last year, a feat that only four teams in NFL history had achieved before them. Versatility in the passing game is the foundation of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense, and Golladay and Jones fit right in.
“It’s a nice balance,” Cooter said. “Kenny’s bigger than TJ, obviously, and TJ ran some really nice underneath-type routes, double-move, triple-move routes in the last game. And TJ’s a veteran guy, a really intelligent guy. Been around here a long time and kind of knows what we’re thinking, knows what I’m thinking. He can adjust on the fly well.”
The cerebral Jones, a product of Notre Dame, is in his third NFL season. His stall is next to Golladay’s in Detroit’s locker room, and he’s begun to impart the importance of having a short memory upon his younger teammate.
“The biggest thing as a rookie is just having confidence in your play. You’re going to make mistakes. Shoot, every year in the league, no matter how many years you’ve been in, you’re going to have a mistake here and there,” Jones said. “Just being able to brush it off and not let it explode into more mistakes, just having the confidence to go out there every play and know that the next play is a new play.”
Perhaps this was in Golladay’s head when he got off to a rough start in his debut. He dropped a potential first-down early in the game and had just two catches for 14 yards through three quarters. Then he went off in the fourth.
When the third-round pick put the Cardinals away with a spectacular diving touchdown catch — “As good as you’ll see,” said Cooter — it was a wonder he even remained on the board for so long.
“You see the reason why they drafted him early on,” said Jones.
It was Jones who provided Golladay the opportunity to prove his worth. Had the Lions stalled on their first drive of the final quarter, who knows how things might look different today. Would we be talking about a win or a loss? Would we be discussing a sizzling debut or a dud?
Almost certainly, Cooter wouldn’t be so satisfied with his receiving core.
“It’s a good balance of guys. Hopefully we have a lot of threats out there when we’re passing the football. You have to cover five guys every time, and that’s sometimes a tough thing to do,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to matchup with all five guys, especially when you’re rotating who’s who as a defense and you have to keep up and keep track.”
Through one week, at least, Tate was correct. The Lions have all the pass-catchers they need.