Lions general manager Bob Quinn spent considerable resources upgrading the tight end position this offseason. It started in mid-March with the signing of veteran Jesse James early in free agency, and culminated late in April with the drafting of tight end T.J. Hockenson No. 8 overall.
James said Tuesday that teams don’t typically spend those kinds of resources on a single position without a plan to use it extensively.
“I imagine that’s why they brought us here,” he said. “They didn’t bring us in here and pay two guys a lot of money to do nothing and just have one guy out there at a time.
“So, I imagine that’s Bob Quinn’s image for us is to go out there and be productive and do something special.”
Quinn did talk about utilizing multiple tight ends after drafting Hockenson.
“Probably work a lot of 12 personnel, which is one back, two tight ends,” Quinn said. “I think that’s something that our offense can really work through.”
The use of 12 personnel can put a lot of stress on a defense, not only from the strain of it being hard to substitute individual defenders and sub packages against it. A two tight end offense also create a numbers advantage in the box in the run game with eight potential gaps along the line of scrimmage having to be covered by the defense. A lot of teams may go with an extra safety instead of a linebacker against 12 personnel, but that makes them a little weaker stopping the run.
A two tight end offense can also provide four potential vertical threats in the passing game, which can be a mismatch problem for teams trying to stack the box with eight defenders and play a single-high safety.
“It’s a huge advantage if you have two guys you’re confident in,” James said of playing two tight ends on the field at the same time. “If you have two guys who can go out there and catch the ball, you can stretch the defense a little different than most teams do.
“It’s definitely an advantage if you can get two guys out there that you’re confident and can do some different things with – run the ball and pass the ball.”
The Lions ran 12 personnel just 12.1 percent of their plays last season. The 124 total plays in 12 personnel ranked 18th in the NFL. It seems like a safe bet to expect those numbers to increase in 2019.
“You know how tight ends work,” Hockenson said. “We’re bigger guys. You can run the ball when we’re on the field. We can go down (the field) for routes. It’s a good thing to be a tight end with coach (Darrell) Bevell. This is a great place for tight ends.”
The Lions want to be more balanced on offense, and the ability to possess and use two versatile tight ends should allow them to be able to have tremendous run/pass balance that can keep a defense on its heels.
“I think it tries to establish a little physicality in the game,” left tackle Taylor Decker said of playing more 12 personnel. “I think we will have a better feel of what that’ll look like once we’re able to get on the field. Bigger guys, more running backs on the field, just tries to set the tone of a physical football team.”