Lions receiver Golden Tate catches a pass during a recent drill in Allen Park. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — In the past eight years, the Lions have run through a bevy of receivers, trying to find another go-to guy besides Calvin Johnson.
Roy Williams, Shaun McDonald, Titus Young, Nate Burleson and others have had their chances, but none has stuck around long enough or produced consistently enough to make a significant impact. Over the years, hybrid running backs such as Jahvid Best and Reggie Bush and catch-first tight ends such as Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria have helped ease some of the burden.
But with the addition of former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in the offseason, the Lions may have found the best complement for Johnson.
Though Tate was limited in spring practice because of a shoulder injury, he’s now at 100 percent and is looking to have a big year in an offensive skill group that looks to have higher expectations than at any time during Johnson’s career.
Tate, in his fifth season out of Notre Dame, had career bests with 64 catches and 898 yards with Seattle last season and is looking to have another breakout year in his first with the Lions. After the first week of training camp, Lions coach Jim Caldwell is happy to see the progression that Tate is making, coming off those injuries.
“He’s been good. He was out for a little bit during the spring,” Caldwell said. “Since he’s been back this fall, when we had the rookies and the injured vets, he was slow just a little bit, but since that time, he’s been doing an outstanding job.
“You can see he has the quickness, the speed and competitiveness. He’s going to help us.”
Tate, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday, has been solid throughout the first week of training camp and said he’s getting adjusted to the Lions pretty easily. Players were only in shoulder pads for Saturday’s practice, but it featured a scrimmage, speeding up the learning curve for players to get acclimated in the offense.
“I’m really pleased with the practice we had. We were running around, playing fast and we still have our mistakes we need to iron out but overall, the effort was there,” Tate said. “We just have to start knowing the offense and defense a little better and being more detailed.”
“I’m excited about where we’re headed. Today was a really good test for us; we made some plays and we also left some plays out there.”
Last season, Tate led the Seahawks in catches and receiving yards and tied for the lead in touchdowns (five). He’ll look to boost the receiving corps behind Johnson, as the Lions didn’t have another receiver with more than 500 yards, though Joique Bell (547 yards) and Reggie Bush (506 yards) — both running backs — were weapons out of the backfield.
With a new offense installed in Caldwell’s first year with the Lions, there’s an adjustment to the new scheme, with some struggles in executing the offense in Friday’s and Saturday’s practices.
“Now for the most part, we all know the playbook. Now we just need to work on the details of it — alignments and understanding it,” Tate said. “For some of us, it’s just X’s and O’s. Now we need to really dig into it and understand why plays are being called.”
Having worked with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on the way to winning the Super Bowl last season, Tate has a good conception of what it takes to win.
So far, he’s been impressed with the way that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has handled things; the biggest positive is the way Stafford passes the ball.
“For one, the guy can throw a straight-out bullet. He can throw the ball anywhere he wants,” Tate said. “His decision-making has been a lot better. I’ve been really impressed; he’s been hitting me in stride, open.
“He understands the offense to the point where he has me second-guessing sometimes. He’ll tell me to do something but he knows. He’s been fun to be around and I’m excited for him.”