If Bruce Ellington is ahead of schedule for how much the Detroit Lions thought he could produce when they signed him to fill a need at wide receiver, some of the credit should go to assistant coach Robert Prince.
Prince put together his own scouting report to see where Ellington would fit best in the offense. As primarily a slot receiver, Ellington has given the Lions solid production since coming to Detroit after being waived by the Houston Texans.
He was not active for his first game as a Lion – a loss to the Chicago Bears – but he had six catches in a victory over the Carolina Panthers and six more in a loss to the Bears in a rematch on Thanksgiving Day.
On a play that does not give him credit in the stats sheet, Ellington ran a precise pattern that helped clear out the Bears' coverage on a play that resulted in a 43-yard catch by Kenny Golladay that set up LeGarrette Blount's second touchdown of the game.
Ellington's catches, and the route he ran on Golladay's big play, made an impression on head coach Matt Patricia. It showed the work that's been done to get integrated into the offense that has undergone a massive overhaul at wide receiver.
"That was a great situation, where there was a guy that had an opportunity," Patricia said. "We saw something that we thought we could use and saw a skillset we liked.
"Definitely a guy that has made the most of his opportunity and produced."
At 5-9 and 197 pounds, Ellington is built to play the slot – a position Golden Tate handed since 2014 until he was traded to the Eagles after seven games.
"It's a credit to Bruce," Prince said Monday of the contribution Ellington has made. "What we did is, we looked at some of his previous film and saw some of the plays he was able to run at other places. We saw kind of the things he can do.
"We incorporated those things that he did. He did a nice job of learning the game plan. We didn't overwhelm him at first.
"Being an explosive athlete does help him create separation. He does have great quickness. Obviously, he's a great athlete."
Ellington was drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round in 2014 out of South Carolina, where he was a starting point guard on the basketball team and a wide receiver for the Gamecocks. Ellington played both spots for three full seasons before turning his attention fully to football to prepare for the draft.
He was with the 49ers for two seasons and missed all of 2016 because of a severe hamstring injury. He spent the 2017 season with the Texans.
Ellington had his best season to date with Houston in 2017, catching 29 passes in 11 games and scoring two touchdowns. He had eight catches this year in three games, before sustaining another hamstring injury.
Ellington has put in extra work to learn the offense as fast as he can.
"It's a great opportunity," Ellington said. "Pretty much the quicker I can learn, the more I can get out there. I'm in the playbook. I come in early and meet with the coach. I'm doing everything I can to learn the playbook.
"Of course, there are things that are different from what I've been doing in Houston. There are things I can get better at and work on."
The trade of Tate, and the knee injury sustained by Marvin Jones Jr., who missed the last two games and was put on injured reserve Monday, has made it a challenge to shuffle the receivers. It's meant more playing time for players such as Andy Jones and TJ Jones, in addition to Ellington.
"It's always a next-man-up mentality," Prince said. "The guys, they don't blink. It's, 'Hey, it's my opportunity.' They've got to step up, and they're up to the challenge."