While tight end
Based on his production, the Lions chose to re-sign him to a three-year deal on March 8, and Heller couldn’t be more pleased with that decision.
“I definitely think it’s a good fit for me here,” said Heller. “I was real happy that they gave me the opportunity last year to come out and prove myself to them and to this league and I’m real happy to be back. I love Detroit and I want to be a part of turning it around and it was exciting to be a part of the beginning of what I hope will be a winning phase for Lions football.”
When Heller came to Detroit last season he had a pretty good idea of what type of role he was going to fill, having spent time under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in Miami during the 2005 season.
Characterized as a blocking tight end for most of his career, Heller knew that supporting the run game was going to be a primary function.
“In talking to Scott before the season and in kind of knowing what he likes to do, I knew that making steps in the running game was a big part of his plans,” said Heller.
“I felt like that was an area where I could contribute. Brandon (Pettigrew) has the physical abilities and the want to, to be a great blocker and I was hoping that with us working together we could get something going – and Casey (FitzSimmons) as well.”
Unfortunately, Pettigrew’s rookie season was cut short after he tore his ACL against Green Bay on Thanksgiving. Soon after, seventh year tight end Casey FitzSimmons suffered a concussion, leaving Heller as the primary tight end.
While losing two of his fellow playmakers was difficult, Heller stepped forward and showed his versatility, providing blocking up front and making an impact in the passing game.
“I’m not a big number guy as far as stats or anything,” said Heller. “But with Brandon and Casey getting hurt later in the year, it gave me the opportunity to play a little more and I was able to make some plays.
“Up to that point I had never had numbers in the passing game like that. I wouldn’t say it was a surprise to me, but I enjoyed being able to get out there and make some plays down field which I hadn’t really been given the opportunity to do a lot up to that point in this league.”
With the Lions offseason program starting next Monday, Heller is not only looking forward to returning to Detroit, but also to reunite with former Seattle teammate and recent free agent signee, wide receiver
“I was happy to see that they signed Nate,” said Heller. “He’s a great guy to have in the locker room and a great football player. He’s definitely going to help this team out and it was great to see that happen as early as it did in free agency. I’m excited to play with him again.”
With the addition of Burleson and a core of young offensive talent, including Pettigrew and second year quarterback
“The thing that I was most impressed with about Brandon is the strength that he has,” said Heller. “A lot of times tight ends aren’t real interested in the blocking phase of the position, but to see the potential he has as a blocker was a real eye opener for me.
“And with Matt, the one thing that I was impressed with, aside from his skill set and natural strength, was his leadership and his toughness. Being such a young player last year and running the huddle the way he did, that really made us respect him a lot. I’m excited to see how he plays in his second year.”