Allen Park — Return man Jeremy Ross had eight offensive touches his first three seasons, seven of which came in 10 games in Detroit in 2013.
But with free-agent receiver Golden Tate sitting out Tuesday’s mandatory minicamp with a shoulder injury, Ross and Ryan Broyles lined up with Calvin Johnson on the first-team offense.
“Ross has been great out there, and he’s having a great offseason,” Johnson said. “He’s catching everything, he’s smart, he knows what to do (and) he’s in the right place at the right time.”
And Johnson didn’t hesitate when asked if he expects Ross to have a bigger role on offense this year.
“No doubt about it,” he said.
Ross bounced around the league after going undrafted out California in 2011, but is poised to stick with the Lions.
During the offseason, he trained with Cal conditioning director Mike Blasquez, adding strength to his lower body and trying to improve his route running.
While in Berkeley, Calif., Ross said he competed against Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett and other NFL players.
At this point, Ross is the clear favorite to return kickoffs and punts for the Lions after averaging 29.3 yards on kickoffs and 16.2 yards on punts in 2013.
Finding a role on offense will be more difficult with Johnson and Tate at receiver and rookie tight end Eric Ebron. Running backs Theo Riddick and Mikel Leshoure also could have a bigger role as Lions are expected to use a fullback more.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell coached Ross when he was on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad in 2011, and after seeing how he’s matured, there could be a role for him on offense.
“He’s the same guy in terms of his approach to the game,” Caldwell said. “He loves to play, he’s got a lot of enthusiasm, he’s athletic and this guy wants to be good.”
After signing with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie, Ross landed on the Colts practice squad. In 2012, the Packers signed him to their practice squad and activated him before Week 12. He made his debut as a return man three weeks later.
But, Ross fumbled in a playoff loss to the 49ers and to the Bengals in Week 3 in 2013, which led to him being waived.
The Lions signed Ross to their practice squad, promoted him in Week 7 and gave him the starting return duties in Week 11 after releasing Micheal Spurlock.
In addition to returns, Ross had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown and two carries for 40 yards, but said he never really had a fair shake at a bigger offensive role.
“I’m always up against contracts,” Ross said, though he credited the talent of his past and current teammates. “It’s not necessarily battling against a player; it’s a battle against contracts.”
Still, with Caldwell and a new staff in Detroit, Ross is excited about having a fresh start.
“They don’t really know too much about anybody here besides Calvin and Golden, so it gives me an opportunity to really show what I can do,” he said.