Training Camp Preview: Receivers and Tight Ends

Posted Jul 18, 2012

Calvin Johnson’s 2011 numbers were some of the most prolific in league history, reinforcing his status as the league’s top receiver.

In all, he caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season. Johnson recorded three 200-yard performances in the team’s last four games, including 211 yards and two more touchdowns in the playoff loss to the Saints.

But Johnson says he could be even better in 2012.

“There’s always more room for growth,” Johnson told beat reporters this offseason.

“If you feel like you’ve reached the point where you don’t have anything to work towards anymore … just knowing me, I always feel like there’s something I can work on every year.

“You just keep on striving, whether it be route running or seeing the ball. There are times when you might drop the ball. You always strive for perfection, we get that from our coach (Shawn Jefferson) and its kind of what we do as a group.”

Right now, it’s a pretty big group Johnson is referring to. The Lions currently have 12 receivers on the roster heading into the start of training camp July 26. The top four is well established in Johnson, Titus Young, Nate Burleson and rookie second-round pick Ryan Broyles. After that, the Lions are expecting great competition in camp.

“The receiver situation is going to be very competitive,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said this offseason. “I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re going to have to let some really talented guys go late because we have enough depth and guys competition for those last spots.”

It’s a long list of candidates for that fifth -- and potentially sixth receiver spot -- between Jarett Dillard, Maurice Stovall, Lance Long, Nate Hughes, Marcus Harris, Wallace Miles, Patrick Edwards and Terence Tolliver.

When it comes to the tight ends, Nathan Overbay, Austin Wells and Alex Gottlieb will have a tough time unseating Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and Will Heller as the Lions' “Big 3” at tight end.

Pettigrew and Scheffler are one of the top tight end tandems in the league with a combined 110 receptions for 1,124 yards, and 11 touchdowns last season. Heller is a versatile player as a receiver and blocker and also played the H-back role for the Lions in past seasons.

The Receivers:

Calvin Johnson 6-5/236 26 96 1,681 17.5 16
Titus Young 5-11/174 22 48 607 12.6 6
Nate Burleson 6-0/198 30 73 757 10.4 3
Ryan Broyles 5-10/188 24 83* 1,157* 13.9* 10*
Jarett Dillard 5-11/190 26 29 292 10.1 1
Maurice Stovall 6-5/220 27 1 8 8.0 0
Patrick Edwards 5-9/175 23 89* 1,752* 19.7* 20*
Wallace Miles 6-0/191 22 70* 1,048* 15.0* 6*
Terrence Tolliver 6-5/204 24 -- -- -- --
Lance Long 5-11/186 26 -- -- -- --
Nate Hughes 6-2/195 27 -- -- -- --
Marcus Harris 6-1/185 23 -- -- -- --

*college statistics

The Tight Ends:

Brandon Pettigrew 6-5/265 27 83 777 9.4 5
Tony Scheffler 6-5/255 29 26 347 13.3 6
Will Heller 6-6/275 31 6 42 7.0 0
Alex Gottlieb 6-4/255 22 33* 424* 12.8* 1*
Austin Wells 6-3/255 23 8* 63* 7.9* 0*
Nathan Overbay 6-5/270 25 -- -- -- --

*college statistics

By the numbers:

8: Number of 100-yard receiving performances for Calvin Johnson last year, tied with Wes Welker (Patriots) for most in NFL.

244: Receiving first downs in 2011 for the Lions, third most in NFL behind Saints (280) and Patriots (245).

45: Receiving touchdowns the last four seasons for Calvin Johnson. The most in the NFL over that stretch (Larry Fitzgerald, 39)

Camp competition:

The competition for that fifth receiver spot is going to be fierce. I have to think Maurice Stovall has a slight edge over Jarett Dillard and Patrick Edwards at this point because of his familiarity with the system and his contributions on special teams.

The team signed Dillard this offseason, who played in 14 games with the Jaguars last season with five starts. He has NFL experience and has shown he can be productive when given an opportunity.

Patrick Edwards is a player the Lions sought out immediately following the draft after he went undrafted out of Houston. Edwards is a similar-type player as Titus Young and Ryan Broyles, so he’ll have to set himself apart with a terrific preseason or as a returner on special teams.

Expect the competition at receiver to be one of the better ones in training camp.

Player to watch:

Titus Young came on strong toward the end of last year with six touchdowns in the team’s final nine games. That after a slow start to the season because of a hamstring injury.

The Lions were hoping Young would use his end-of-the-season burst as a spring board into the offseason and into this season. There was a hiccup along the way, though, when Young reportedly punched teammate Louis Delmas during an offseason training session and subsequently left the team for a short time.

When he got back, all on eyes were on Young.

“He’s had a good run since he’s been back with the team,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s made big plays in just about every practice. He’s worked hard, he’s been a good teammate and he’s probably looked the best that I’ve ever seen him look in this couple week span.

“We just need to keep him on that track, because he’s been outstanding the last couple weeks. You weren’t seeing ghosts out there, you were seeing the same things that we’ve been seeing.”

The possibilities for Young in this offense are endless playing opposite Calvin Johnson and the attention the defense is forced to pay to him. Young will get plenty of single coverage. He might be the best route runner on the team and has an uncanny ability to get separation from defenders. If he keeps trending upwards, he’ll certainly be a player to watch in camp.