Veteran tight end Jesse James didn't mince words when asked Thursday how he would assess his first season in Detroit in 2019 after coming over from Pittsburgh as a free agent.
"It wasn't a great year," James said. "Toughest year I've had as a pro, for sure. A lot of learning. You just worked as hard as you could all year and nothing really ended up working out for me personally."
James signed with Detroit expecting to be a solid contributor, but he ended up being targeted just 27 times in 16 games. He caught a total of just 16 passes for 142 yards and failed to reach the end zone. Some of that was playing behind first-round pick T.J. Hockenson, but even so, it was far less production than either James or the Lions expected.
That type of season can certainly be frustrating for a player and could start to lead them to question their role moving forward.
That's something Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wasn't going to let fester with James. Bevell reached out and called James during the middle of the virtual offseason training program earlier this year and told James things didn't work out like Bevell envisioned. He told James he felt that the tight ends being more involved could play a role in the offense being even better in 2020.
"That was kind of eye opening for me for him to approach me," James said of those offseason conversations with Bevell. "He didn't have to. Didn't need to make that happen. He reached out and called me and had a good talk and said there were things I could obviously do better, and I knew that, and he took some of that on himself."
James had caught at least 30 passes in each of his previous three seasons in Pittsburgh.
Along with Hockesnon, Logan Thomas and Isaac Nauta – the Lions tight ends who caught a pass last year – Detroit's tight ends accounted for just 19 percent of all the receptions on offense last year.
Bevell wants to see that number increase in his second season running the offense.
"I talked to Jesse about getting Jesse more involved, but all those guys need to have opportunities to touch the ball," Bevell said earlier this offseason. "We have to able to find a good mix to keep the defenses honest. Just like last year, you'll see a tight end have a big game, you'll see a wideout have a big game. Sometimes that's scheme. Sometimes it's matchup. It's what the defense is presenting to us and who they're putting on guys.
"So, I think you'll still see it move around in terms of who gets the ball, but definitely it's something I've talked to those (tight ends) about getting them more involved where they're showing up and having games like that."