Replacing Golden Tate is no easy task. As Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia said on Wednesday, it’s going to take a full team effort.
“You never replace. You never try to walk in and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to replace this guy with this.’ It’s a team effort,” Patricia said.
But listening to players around the locker room this week, it certainly sounded like there was going to be one person that would benefit the most: wide receiver TJ Jones.
Jones has hung around the periphery of the Lions’ receiving corps for years. After being drafted in the sixth round back in 2014, he barely played much over the following three years. However, season after season, he would make the final 53-man team or hang around on the practice squad.
Every now and then, the Lions would call on him due to an injury, and he would show flashes of why he was worth holding onto. In 2014, after Lance Moore suffered an injury, Jones took over as the team’s No. 3 option and finished with a strong 9-catch, 121-yard performance over four games.
He really broke out last year after Kenny Golladay went down with a hamstring injury. Over a six-week stretch, in which he started every game, Jones pulled in 14 catches for 207 yards. An injury would end his season early, but he finished with a respectable 30 catches and 399 yards.
“Every time TJ Jones goes in the game—you can look at his track record—every time he goes in, he makes big catches,” safety Glover Quin said on Wednesday. “Two weeks ago he makes a big catch down the sidelines in Miami. I’ve been here countless years, it feels like, I’ve seen him make tons of big catches.”
Though Jones did have a big catch against the Dolphins this year, he hasn’t been a big part of the game plan this season. He only has a total of 73 offensive snaps in 2018 and was a healthy scratch last week. That 26-yard catch in Miami was one of just three receptions this year.
However, fellow receiver Marvin Jones Jr. expects that role to grow now that Tate is gone.
“We have TJ Jones and (Brandon) Powell,” Jones said. “Obviously, they’re going to get some playing time.”
Jones makes sense to take over Tate’s role, as his shifty playing style fits best in that slot role which is now vacated. The Lions like to go three-wide over 60 percent of the time, and as of right now, they don’t have a tight end consistent enough to take over that slot role. TJ has also benefited from learning alongside Tate for the past four years.
“There wasn’t a time where I wasn’t asking him something,” Jones told reporters on Wednesday. “Whether it was on the field, off the field, recovery, just day-to-day life of how to become a pro.”
Additionally, Jones brings versatility. He’s capable of playing both the outside and inside positions, giving the Lions some options come gameday.
“He’s like our Swiss-Army knife,” Marvin Jones said. “He knows all the plays. I think we just go there and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Combine that with Kenny Golladay, who also slides into the slot occasionally, and the Lions actually have some options to throw defenses varied looks.
But Jones knows he can’t do it alone.
“I think we’re all going to step up,” Jones said. “I think there’s a lot of touches, a lot of responsibility to be spread out amongst everyone in the offense. It’s up to us to handle it, take your responsibility your part, whatever your role may be, and do it to the best of your ability.”