Toward the end of the 2021 Detroit Lions season, the team was dealing with a shortage of skill position players. Quintez Cephus broke his collarbone about halfway through the season. Tyrell Williams suffered what turned out to be a season-ending concussion in Week 1. T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift both missed significant time towards the end of the year.
It was then the Lions called on rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown to take a bigger part in the offense. He, as it turned out, was plenty ready for the spotlight. After working harder than just about anyone else on that practice field since he arrived in May, St. Brown thrived down the stretch, catching a total of 51 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns in the final six games of the season.
Lions wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El joined the Twentyman in the Huddle podcast this week and talked about just how rare of an accomplishment that was for a rookie.
“It’s rare and he welcomed it,” Randle El said. “And he grabbed the bull by the horns and just kinda went and went and went.”
But with young, eager players like him, sometimes you do have to slow them down.
“He got to the point where I had to try and pull him out,” Randle El explained. “Because it was like, ‘Alright, man, you’ve got to slow down.’ He’s trying to do scout team, he’s running down on kickoffs, he’s doing kickoff return. I’m like, ‘Man, c’mon, slow (down). I need you on offense. I need you to be ready.’ But that’s who he is, and you’ve got to pull him back.”
This year, Randle El has another rookie in his room: 12th overall pick Jameson Williams. And although Williams has not yet practiced due to a torn ACL suffered in January, the Lions receiver coach already sees some of that similar passion to St. Brown.
“I think I got the same thing in Jameson,” Randle El said. “I already see it. It’s the same kid who tore his ACL in the (National) Championship game and was trying to go back in the game. So I know I’m going to have the same issue with him.”
Randle El may have gotten some help from his head coach this week, as Dan Campbell explicitly stated that he doesn’t expect Williams to be ready by the beginning of training camp. The Lions’ priority with Williams—despite his eagerness to play—is the receiver’s long-term health.
“Until he’s able to stabilize himself and really get some strength that we feel good about to where he can protect himself, he can protect that knee, and he can compete and compete at a high level, we’re not going to put him out there,” Campbell said.
Once Williams is ready to go, it will be on Randle El to, once again, strike that delicate balance between challenging the rookie receiver to his limits, while also making sure not to put too much on his plate too quickly.
“That’s my job. That’s what I’m here for,” Randle El said. “Teach them, make sure I can really protect them in a lot of different ways, but at the same time, let them go, let them be free so they can play.”