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Lions coaches encouraging Connor Heyward to embrace his versatility

MOBILE – Coaches and general managers say all the time that the more a player can do, the more value they have when there are only 53 spots available on an NFL roster.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell has talked often about players like Jason Cabinda, who bring so much to the team. Cabinda can play fullback, H-back and tight end, and do them all at a high level.

Down here at the Senior Bowl, the Lions are trying to find out if Michigan State fullback Connor Heyward can be the same kind of player. Heyward, who is the younger brother of Steelers Pro Bowl defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, played in 49 career games at Michigan State with 28 starts at both running back and tight end.

"I think it helps me a lot," Heyward said of his position versatility. "Being able to show that I played running back, be flexed out, playing tight end, whether that was 11 or 12 personnel and also playing special teams."

Heyward finished his Spartans career with 825 rushing yards, 711 receiving and 723 on kick returns, scoring 11 career touchdowns in the process. That makes him an intriguing prospect for a lot of teams, but especially the Lions, who showed with Cabinda they're willing to use a player's versatile abilities all over the field.

The Lions played Cabinda at fullback, tight end, in the slot and on all their special teams units. He did a lot of the dirty work that allowed other players to make the flashy plays.

Heyward said American Team offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and the other offensive coaches have been encouraging him to embrace his versatility this week.

View photos of the Lions arrival at the 2022 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

"They are preaching it every day," Heyward said. "They kind of want to see me at tight end, but I've been doing fullback right now and H-back things," Heyward said. "One-on-ones I was at running back in pass pro and running routes out the backfield. So just being able to show that. They know I'm versatile."

Heyward mentioned how a lot of teams got away from using an H-back, but it's trending again in the league thanks to players like 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk, and that excites Heyward about his potential usage in the NFL.

With Cabinda scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Heyward could be a player that interests the Lions on Day 3 of the draft as a versatile player on offense.

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