NFL OTAs news, updates: Lions TEs Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts learning to exist in tandem

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Wednesday May 24th, 2017

Checking on the latest news from around the league as OTAs continue ...

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Down the road, perhaps as early as next year, the Lions’ may look to replace TE Eric Ebron with 2017 draft pick Michael Roberts. This season, though, the goal is to get Ebron and Roberts on the field together in an effort to further open up what has been a dangerous but, at times, inconsistent offense.

Days before picking up Ebron’s fifth-year contract option for 2018, Detroit GM Bob Quinn said that Roberts’s arrival would not impact that decision. “I would say this though,” Quinn continued, “Michael is a different kind of tight end than Eric is. Eric’s a fast, athletic, ‘F’ tight end, we call them. Big Mike is a ’Y’.”

The “Y” designation means that Roberts will be asked to play more of an inline role, so Ebron—as a “F”—can move around the field. Roberts reiterated that anticipated split Wednesday, during the Lions’ second OTA. “[We] can go hand-in-hand” in the offense, Roberts said.

Last season, the Lions had very few additional options available to them at the tight end position. After Ebron’s 708 snaps (via Football Outsiders), Matthew Mulligan saw the next most action on offense, with 169 snaps. He finished the season with one catch for eight yards. When Ebron was sidelined by an injury from Weeks 5–7, his fellow tight ends accounted for a total of three catches and 19 yards receiving, all by Clay Harbor.

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Roberts has the size to be a solid NFL blocking tight end, hence his “Y” spot. But the Lions expect him to contribute as a pass catcher, too—at least in the red zone. But it’s still to be determined just how early he can be an extra weapon for QB Matthew Stafford.

“Mike is learning, man,” Ebron said. “Playing tight end is not easy in this league. I had to learn [that] first-hand. He’s taken it well, he’s adapted to it. He’ll continue to get better. ... Like I told him yesterday, ’You’ve played football since you were young, but when you get to the NFL this is your first year ever playing football.’

“That’s how it is. The way you learn, the fundamentals, the challenges, the obstacles, so it’s definitely harder for a younger guy.”

Adding to the intrigue around the Ebron/Roberts tandem is the Lions’ unsettled receiver depth chart beyond Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.

Rookie Kenny Golladay figures to be in the mix outside, while T.J. Jones and versatile back Theo Riddick could see looks out of the slot. Ex-Packer Jared Abbrederies, signed to a reserve/future contract in January, is another name to file away—he had an impressive leaping grab along the sideline during Tuesday’s workout. But the Lions certainly could opt to utilize Ebron as their primary third “receiver,” if Roberts can handle pass protection.

“[I see] this as only opportunity,” Roberts said. “I’m just trying to get on the field.”

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One more quick Lions note. Coach Jim Caldwell said that his team did not consider signing Colin Kaepernick because “we have the guys that we want at this point in time”: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock and rookie Brad Kaaya. Caldwell, who was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator when Baltimore beat Kaepernick’s 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII then added, “but I don’t think there’s any question he’s capable. I was on the other side of the field ... when he was playing for the 49ers in the Super Bowl. That was only a couple years ago. So, I don’t think that his skill level has diminished to the point where he would be completely ineffective in this league, so we’ll see.”

Is Laquon Treadwell happening this season?

During his painful rookie season Treadwell caught exactly one more pass than you, the reader (unless you are an NFL player, in which case please let me know). He’ll have an opportunity to redeem himself—and to earn more playing time—during the coming months.

An obvious contender for Treadwell’s snaps moving forward will be recent signee Michael Floyd. The Vikings also used a fifth-round draft pick on South Florida’s Rodney Adams. Treadwell, though, has done what he’s needed to do thus far.

“Well, he’s had a great, in my opinion, five and a half weeks,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said, via a transcript provided by the team. “He came back and he was really on point with what he’s supposed to be doing mentally. He’s been out here competing and doing a nice job running routes and catching the ball. Understanding where he fits in the running game and who to block. To this point, we’ve been really pleased with his progress based on a year ago.”

The Vikings’ website noted that Treadwell made an impressive downfield grab Wednesday, on a pass from Sam Bradford. As always, OTA highlights come with the caveat that QBs are off limits and players aren’t in pads, but even baby steps are noteworthy from Treadwell.

Good news for the Texans’ O-line

A healthy J.J. Watt in attendance at OTAs no doubt will be a huge storyline in Houston. The availability of center Nick Martin, after he missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury, counts as another important development for the defending AFC South champs.

“The ankle is good to go,” Martin said, via HoustonTexans.com.

Martin has a battle on his hands to take back the center job—Greg Mancz, who held it last year, is still around and the Texans drafted Kyle Fuller in Round 7. At least one of those players could wind up serving as depth at guard.

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A potential boost in Pittsburgh’s secondary

The Steelers used a third-round draft pick on CB Cam Sutton and then a fifth-rounder on Brian Allen. Could they have even more help on the way?

The added 12 pounds could be a good sign, not necessarily the result of two years off the active roster—Golson was 5’9” and 176 lbs., headed into the draft, so a little extra bulk might not hurt. His lack of height didn’t stop Golson from tying the Ole Miss program record with 10 interceptions in 2014.

It’s far too early to expect much from Golson this season, and both Sutton and Allen face the challenges in front of any rookie cornerback. That said, it wasn’t long ago that the Steelers were almost totally devoid of meaningful depth at the CB spots. If even two of the Golson-Sutton-Allen trio can contribute in ’17, a position group headed by Ross Cockrell and 2016 first-rounder Artie Burns would start to look a lot healthier.

Josh Doctson catches Jay Gruden’s eye

Most of OTA news boils down to either a) a player suffering an untimely injury, or b) a player working to get back from a prior health setback. Doctson, Washington’s 2016 first-round pick, falls into the latter category—he caught just two passes as a rookie and landed on I.R. due to an Achilles issue.

Having him back in the fold for 2017 could be huge for QB Kirk Cousins and the offense, following the losses of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to free agency. The Redskins did add back Terrelle Pryor, but beyond he and Jamison Crowder, playing time at wide receiver is up for grabs.

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Washington coach Jay Gruden had this to say about Doctson on Wednesday: “I think the big thing for him is the confidence in his Achilles and I think he’s got that right now. I saw him out there today and yesterday, the last two days he’s looked better and better. It looks like he can run down the field. He made a good catch down the sideline today and [he has] strong hands, we know that about him. Now we’ve just got to continue to put one day after another after another.”

“The proof is in the film”

Cleveland QB Brock Osweiler was asked Wednesday if he still believes he can start in the NFL. His response (as it should have been): “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Why does he feel that way? Well ...

The end to that exchange is kind of brutal, isn’t it? Osweiler’s quiet “that’s OK” response when the intrepid reporter reminds the QB that his film is kind of, you know, terrible was more or less the real-life equivalent of this:

The good news for Osweiler is that so long as the Browns opt to keep him around, he should be under consideration for the No. 1 job. Cody Kessler is penciled into the spot right now, with rookie DeShone Kizer lurking, but neither is anywhere near a lock for Week 1. If Kizer needs time and Osweiler outperforms Kessler through August, the ex-Texans starter would have a case for the starting nod.

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