One of the Detroit Lions’ most unsettled positional battles on offense is at tight end. The Lions are obviously set with their No. 1 guy in T.J. Hockenson, but beyond that, there is little set in stone. Last year, the Lions tried to complement Hockenson with Josh Hill and Darren Fells, but the former retired and the latter asked to be released midseason. For a big portion of the season, the Lions had to rely on undrafted rookie Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra to round out the room.
This year, the Lions didn’t invest heavily in the position. They made relatively minor moves to add modest competition—signing former Saints TE3 Garrett Griffin and drafting James Mitchell in the fifth round. With Mitchell still being eased into practice after suffering a torn ACL last September, it has left the competition for TE2 wide open.
However, coach Dan Campbell talked about the position prior to Tuesday’s practice and provided clarity both on what the Lions are looking for in those reserve roles and where some of the competition stands thus far.
“I kind of look at as you need three guys and we’ve got [T.J. Hockenson] that we certainly like and feel good about what he can do in the pass game, and I think as a bonus he can do some things in the run game,” Campbell said. “You need a blocker, which is where I think Brock Wright and where [Griffin] are battling it out right now. And then I think you need a hybrid, you need somebody like Zylstra that you think can do, he’s a jack of all trades, he can do a little bit of everything.”
It’s rare to hear a coach explain his roster building strategy, but Campbell is being pretty transparent here. The team is likely to carry three tight ends: Hockenson, a blocker, and a hybrid.
Campbell admitted he was using those specific players simply as examples, but it also matches what we’re seeing on the field. Wright and Griffin are getting the majority of early in-line reps—with Griffin seeing some work at fullback as Jason Cabinda remains sidelined with an injury. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to hear Campbell describe Zylstra as a hybrid player considering he has a receiver background and has mostly stood out as a pass-catcher.
Of course, Mitchell is the one player who could disrupt the battle. Mitchell shined as a pass catcher at Virginia Tech, but also flashed some serious blocking skills. Through a week and a half of training camp, though, Mitchell has essentially seen no team drills. However, Campbell sounded optimistic that Mitchell will be a more active participant in the near future.
“He’s going to get a little more today, certainly,” Campbell said. “He had a 7-on-7, he’ll get some more of that, and hopefully with him this week, we can get him some team reps.”