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NOTEBOOK: Lions have options at tight end

Detroit Lions tight ends coach Chris White told reporters earlier this week he doesn't consider any of the four tight ends on the roster right now – Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo or Hakeem Valles – his No. 1 guy.

White said he's still kind of waiting for that role to develop.

One or two of the four will obviously start Monday night's season opener vs. the New York Jets, but that still seems like one of the positions on offense with some question marks surrounding it.

"I think that's a position in general, just if you look at the league, that has really become a multiple position, I would say in the last eight years, where you might have two guys that are really 'starters' or 'No. 1 guys,'" head coach Matt Patricia said Saturday.

"I think that's really kind of a unique position. I relate it a lot to the linebackers on defense. There are inside linebackers, outside linebackers, there are different types of players in those positions that need to be utilized in different situations.

"I think all those guys are doing a real good job though really through camp competing for different spots and responsibilities and play time. So, we'll keep pushing that with that group."

It sounds like a tight end by committee approach might be in the game plan.

Willson and Toilolo came over in free agency with the chance to play a lead role in Detroit after they were the No. 2 guy for their teams last season.

Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick last season, is still a work in progress, according to White, but is immensely talented.

Valles, a player who spent most of last season on Detroit's practice squad, worked his way onto the 53-man roster because of his terrific play throughout training camp and the preseason.

That's four options vying for a lead role.

It's also completely feasible a No. 1 tight end never emerges at all in this offense. This is a diverse group of players in terms of their individual skillsets, and maybe this becomes a group effort, at least to begin the year.

"I think we have a lot of potential in this room," Willson said of the group. "We're all different."

Last season, the Lions had a clear No. 1 player at the position in Eric Ebron, who was targeted 86 times and caught 53 passes for 574 yards and four scores. The Lions moved on from Ebron this offseason, but that's left a hole to fill.

Does wide receiver Kenny Golladay get more of those targets? Do the Lions mix them around to all their tight ends? Or can someone emerge as a reliable go-to at tight end?

"I have to have a big year," Roberts said. "I have a lot to play for and a lot to prove to myself. Show fans and my supporters. I know they want to see something."


With Sam Darnold starting at quarterback on the big stage of Monday Night Football on the road, the Jets will no-doubt be counting on their run game to help their rookie signal caller navigate through his first NFL start.

This was a Jets rushing attack last year that averaged 4.0 yards per attempt and 106.4 yards per game, both respectable numbers.

"Obviously, (Bilal) Powell is a tremendous player," Patricia said of the veteran Jets running back. "A guy that can get the edge, a guy that can cut back. Very dangerous.

"(Isaiah) Crowell when they got him, a guy that really gets downhill hard and fast and gets into the defense vertically pretty quick. (He) keeps the chains moving which is always good for a rookie quarterback or a young offense.

"(Trenton) Cannon, too. Another young guy that they picked up that's a very explosive player. He plays on special teams, returner type. Guy that can really – he's kind of a homerun hitter. So, you have to be careful with all three of them in the game to make sure you're defending them all properly. They're all a little bit different."

Since 2016, Powell has averaged 4.83 yards per carry, the third best average among running backs in the league with at least 200 carries.

Being good against the run is one of Patricia's mandates on defense. While that's important every week, it means a little more this week against a rookie quarterback. Darnold's job gets exponentially easier if the Jets can run the football with any sort of consistency Monday night.


Under former head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions had weekly team captains. Under Patricia, the Lions will have permanent season captains.

They are quarterback Matthew Stafford (offense), wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. (offense), guard T.J. Lang (offense), linebacker Jarrad Davis (defense), linebacker Devon Kennard (defense), safety Glover Quin (defense) and long snapper Don Muhlbach (special teams).

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