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O'HARA: Wick went from good story to good prospect

Cole Wick is getting help without asking for it at Detroit Lions training camp.

For the rookie tight end, the input he gets in the heat of practice-field action could be a sign of how his stock has risen.

When Wick came to the Lions as an undrafted free agent, he was a good story because of his background. He was the first player from University of Incarnate Word's fledgling football program to sign with an NFL team. From the start of rookie camp in May through the first week of training camp, Wick has advanced his storyline from good story to good prospect – with a legitimate chance to make the 53-player roster. At 6-6 and 255 pounds, he's a good target.

His performance hasn't leveled off at any stage. That includes when the team began practicing in pads, a major step for any rookie, and Saturday's mock game at Ford Field, when he caught a touchdown pass.

Wick couldn't fully enjoy the TD catch because of the injury sustained in the same possession by starting tight end Eric Ebron.

"It sucks seeing a guy get hurt, especially in my position group," Wick said. "I don't know anything about what's going on with him.

"It felt good (catching a TD pass). It's my first one in front of a crowd, it felt great."

It remains to be seen how Ebron's injury changes Wick's status, or that of the entire tight end depth chart.

But in regard to Wick specifically, head coach Jim Caldwell said earlier that he hasn't seen anything to indicate that Wick has hit a plateau.

"I don't think he's gotten to that point," Caldwell said.

No surprise, the biggest step up for Wick was when the pads came on and the practice tempo shifted into a higher gear.

"It's a lot different," Wick said. "It's just a lot more physical out there, a lot faster. Everything is amped up. We're trying to play fast and get everything done.

"It's a significantly sped-up game at this point. I make mistakes, just like everybody else There are days when I have a good day and days when I have a bad day. I try not to think about the good things that are happening and not think about the bad things that are happening and just keep playing."

Wick is showing promise, with a little help from his friends – the Lions' veterans.

One example: after Wick made a nice catch on a pass from Dan Orlovsky this week, Orlovsky huddled up with him for a quick critique.

"He was coaching me up a little bit," Wick said later. "Just how to make my cut a little more crisp – a little bit more sound, and kind of where he knows I'm going to be. It's just working on chemistry."

Another example: Brandon Pettigrew, the veteran in the tight end group who is not practicing while rehabbing a knee injury, gives Wick tips based on what he has learned in seven seasons with the Lions as a two-way blocker/receiver.

Even though he is not participating, Pettigrew is on the field at every practice. Wick can count on him for on-the-job training – without having to ask.

"Pettigrew will be over there saying, 'This is what happened to you, and this is why that happened,'" Wick said.

Veteran leadership and mentoring are important assets in team sports. When asked how valuable veterans are in that role, Caldwell commended it.

"It's tremendous," Caldwell said. "I think it's invaluable actually. Guys that have been around for eight, nine, 10 years, you notice something about those guys.  Number one, they know how to handle themselves off the field.  They do a great job just in terms of preparation day in and day out.  They take care of their bodies to last that long.

"Not only that, they show proficiency at their craft because they are really, really fine technicians.  For them to be able to pass that information down to the young guys, I think, is very important."

From the quarterback's position, whether it's Orlovsky or Matthew Stafford, the input adds nuance to the plays and techniques. Orlovsky makes sure he has some rapport with a player before he starts giving advice.

"You've got to know the guy first before you try to help him," Orlovsky said. "Cole is pretty coachable. He's got a pretty good understanding of football. You don't want to make guys robotic.

"You're just trying to explain to him the way Matt and I see it."

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