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O'HARA: Logan Thomas part of Lions' overhaul at tight end

PHOENIX – Logan Thomas can count his two stints with the Detroit Lions in days, not seasons or even months.

By any measure, he might feel like a grizzled veteran in his second tour with the Lions compared to his first.

He was a Lion all of two days when they signed him to the practice squad on Nov. 28, 2016.

Two days later, the Buffalo Bills signed him to their regular season roster under NFL rules that allow players on practice squads to be signed to the 53-player active roster by any team.

It looks like Thomas has some staying power this time around. He took some steps in establishing himself as a better prospect at tight end in his two seasons with the Bills who can add depth to what was a bleak position in 2018.

General manager Bob Quinn recalled the unusual circumstances that resulted in a short stay in Detroit for Thomas three years ago. Quinn was unsuccessful in trying to convince Thomas to remain with the Lions as a practice squad player, Quinn said this week at the NFL annual meeting.

"I remember having him in my office, trying to convince him to stay on our practice squad," Quinn said. "Usually, 99 percent of those go the other way (not stay on a practice squad).

"That was when he was already transitioning to tight end."

The six-year journey Thomas has taken to find job stability in the NFL began in 2014 and has taken position changes (quarterback to tight end), franchise changes (Cardinals, Dolphins, Giants, Lions, Bills and a return with the Lions), and status changes (fourth-round draft pick, regular roster and practice squads).

The Lions obviously have been intrigued twice by the athletic ability that made Thomas a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, and how it was used to convert him to tight end in Buffalo.

Thomas was considered a quarterback when he participated in the 2014 Combine workouts. He would have been near the top of the tight end prospects based on pure athletic ability.

At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he was timed in 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He had a vertical jump of 35-6 inches and a standing broad jump of 9 feet, 10 inches.

Although Quinn was unable to convince Thomas to remain with the Lions in 2016, he kept an eye on him during his stay in Buffalo. Thomas did not play in any games until 2017.

"We saw a lot of things," Quinn said. "I always kind of circled back and watched him the last couple of years in Buffalo. I thought he was a good second-wave guy (as a free agent this year) to add depth to that position.

"We don't think he's kind of hit his ceiling. We think he'll still have some room to improve in the run game and the passing game."

In 24 games with the Bills, Thomas had 19 catches – seven for 67 yards and his only touchdown in 2017 and 12 for 77 yards in 2018.

As Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia have said this week, the tight end position has been targeted for an upgrade this year after producing little in 2018.

Jesse James, formerly of Pittsburgh, was signed in the first wave of free agency. Michael Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017 with 13 career catches, is also on the roster along with Jerome Cunningham. Cunningham was on the roster for three games last year, without making a catch. His eight career receptions were made with the Giants in nine games in 2015.

With the tight end position in an extreme makeover for the second straight year, there's an opportunity for Thomas to enhance his status.

Patricia referred to him as a "grind-it-out-kid."

"Excellent athlete," Patricia said. "He can do a lot of things. I had a great meeting with him (before signing). He's excited about what we do. I'm excited about him."

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