Robert Prince is entering his fifth season as the Detroit Lions wide receivers coach, and for the first time in his tenure returns more than the top two receivers from the previous season. Prince has to feel a bit spoiled, actually, as the Lions return their top four receivers from last season.
Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay and TJ Jones are all back for 2018. As is quarterback Matthew Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, which has to make Prince feel ahead of the game at this point in the offseason.
“We have a good group coming back,” Prince said last week. “But it’s a new year and we’re all 0-0 and they have to earn it again this year, but I do like the group. They’re all working hard and hopefully we’ll have some good production out of those guys.”
There’s no reason to think the Lions won’t get good production from that group again this season. They combined for 211 catches, 2,980 yards and 18 touchdowns as a group in 2017.
Tate led the team in receptions with 92. It was the fourth straight season in which he’s tallied at least 90 catches. He also led all NFL receivers with 613 yards after the catch.
Marvin Jones led the Lions in yards (1,101) and touchdowns (9), becoming one of the league’s top deep threats in the process. His 15 receptions of 25-plus yards were the third most in the NFL last season.
Marvin Jones and Tate were the only receiver teammates to both reach 1,000 yards together last year.
TJ Jones had his finest season as a professional with 30 receptions for 399 yards and a score in 14 games. The fourth-year receiver is versatile, and has proven he can step in and contribute anytime.
Tate, Marvin Jones and TJ Jones have all been in Cooter’s system since its real inception at the beginning of the 2016 season. There’s a comfort level with that, and Prince says it allows them to work on some of the finer details and nuances of playing the receiver position.
There’s always new plays to learn and minor scheme tweaks to work through, but Tate, Marvin Jones and TJ Jones are very familiar with the scheme and how Cooter wants things run and done. That puts this Lions passing game ahead of schedule for this time of year.
“I think definitely when you have guys returning you’re really trying to build on what they’ve done in the past,” Prince said. “Where you have some familiarity with those guys there’s some things they need to improve and that’s what we’re working on with each guy individually.”
View the best photos from Week 2 of Detroit Lions 2018 OTAs.
Then there’s Golladay, who is entering his second season with the club. His rookie campaign featured some eye-popping plays, but also a hamstring injury that kept him out of five games and limited him through most of the middle of the season.
Still, Golladay averaged 17.0 yards per catch and produced six receptions of 30-plus yards. All the physical tools are there with him, and with a year now under his belt, the expectation is for him to be a serious weapon in this offense alongside the other three.
“For (Golladay), especially, he felt more comfortable near the end of the season than he did the beginning,” Prince said. “A lot less thinking and more just being able to react to the plays. For him to be in this spring and get another chance at going through an OTAs is definitely helping him.”
Detroit’s passing attack ranked sixth in the league last year, and essentially returns all of its main components. For the collection of eight young receivers on the roster – Deontez Alexander, Jace Billingsley, Dontez Ford, Andy Jones, Chris Lacy, Bradley Marquez, Brandon Powell and Teo Redding – there’s a wealth of experience and playmaking ability ahead of them to learn from.
Detroit has a deep and experienced group at the top of their receiver corps, and that’s allowing Prince to focus on individual development and some of the finer details that hopefully make this group of receivers even better in 2018.