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O'HARA: Roberts looking to 'dominate within his role'

Michael Roberts' stats line for his rookie season with the Detroit Lions looks like he spent most of the year watching from the sideline as a player on the gameday inactive list.

His statistics were skimpy to say the most, not the least: Four catches out of seven targets for 46 yards; two catches that gained first downs, one drop.

It wasn't anything to cheer about, but it also hasn't kept Roberts from coming to training camp this year in an optimistic mood that he can make an impact in the group of six tight ends currently on the roster who are battling for playing time and roles.

It likely will take the entire Rocket Mortgage training camp and all four preseason games for a leader to emerge in the group. It's possible it could be a position by committee.

Roberts speaks confidently about dominating his position -- with an explanation.

"Dominate within my role," he said. "Whatever role they set out for me, I have to dominate completely. I won't be the reason they take me off the field.

"I'll do everything in my power to give Detroit everything I have. We're here to win, not to be mediocre or anything less than a professional team."

Roberts' receiving stats were not what anyone, himself included, could have expected based on what he did in his senior season at Toledo. Roberts was a touchdown machine in 2016. He had 45 of his 70 career catches, and 16 of his 22 career touchdown catches.

He made enough of an impression for the Lions to draft him in the fourth round.

While his receiving stats barely moved the needle, there were other facets of Roberts' game that showed the promise the Lions' coaching staff has for him, and why Roberts has approached this year's training camp in an optimistic mood that he can have a prominent role.

Roberts played 15 games in 2017, with three starts. He was effective in his primary role as a blocker. He played 220 snaps on offense, and 148 on special teams. He was the No. 3 tight end all season behind veterans Eric Ebron and Darren Fells, both of whom have departed as free agents.

Tight ends coach Chris White said Roberts was solid as a blocker.

"If you watch the film of him, he was a very impressive run blocker," White said. "I think what you're going to find is that he can do all the things in the passing game that we want him to do."

Can he do for the Lions in the NFL what he did for Toledo in college?

"We certainly hope so," White said. "He's got to beat out of a lot of guys as well. That's the plan. Hopefully, he's ready for it. He just needs to improve daily, one little step at a time.

"He's got a chance to be a real good football player."

At 6-5 and 265 pounds, Roberts has the size to be an inline blocker. And with 11.5-inch hands – largest of any player at the 2017 NFL Combine – he should be a good target for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Roberts would like to have a bigger role in the passing game, especially in the red zone.

"That's where I think I shine the most," he said. "In the red zone, I feel like I could be unstoppable down there. Who shouldn't feel that way?"

With Ebron and Fells gone, to the Colts and Browns respectively, the opportunity is wide open in the competition for roster spots and playing time.

Roberts is the only tight end on the roster who was with the Lions all of last season, and the only one who has caught a pass as a Lion. Three other veterans are in camp – Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo and Sean McGrath.

Roberts has developed a friendship with Willson, who grew up in the Windsor suburb of LaSalle as a Lions fan and signed with them after four seasons with the Seahawks.

"He brings energy," Roberts said. "He's just a solid individual. That's someone I can learn from. I feel like I can learn from everyone in the room."

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