Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron has 33 catches for 396 yards, including five TDs, this season. (Ed Suba Jr. / MCT)
Allen Park — When Lions tight end Joseph Fauria was a sophomore in high school, he remembers playing volleyball against Browns tight end Jordan Cameron, who is two years older.
Fauria, from Encino, Calif., said one thing he remembers is that Cameron, from nearby Newbury Park, had longer hair, but his athleticism was apparent.
Cameron, who went to BYU to play basketball before transferring to USC to play football, is in his third season and blossomed into one of the NFL’s top tight ends.
“He’s a tremendous player,” said Fauria, a rookie. “He gets open, and he catches the rock. He’s making plays out there.”
Sunday in Cleveland, the two meet again. And for the Lions defense, stopping Cameron is vital.
“He might be one of the hardest, one of the better matchups I’ve faced in a long, long time,” Lions safety Louis Delmas said. “He’s fast, tall, physical, athletic and he’s smart. He knows how to fake the opponent out with not just speed, but also with head movement.
“Obviously the film don’t lie, and the numbers don’t lie.”
This season, Cameron has 33 catches for 396 yards and five touchdowns. He’s 13th in the NFL in receiving yards and third among tight ends, behind Jimmy Graham of New Orleans and Antonio Gates of San Diego.
In his first two seasons, Cameron had 26 receptions, 259 yards and one touchdown — combined. So clearly, new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have helped him make the leap.
“Yeah, he’s a tough one,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said of Cameron. “He’s made a lot of plays for them, and our linebackers’ and safeties’ ability to keep him from affecting the game and making big chunks of yards is definitely a key this week.”
In the Lions’ exhibition against the Browns in August, Cameron had three catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns, but both teams were using vanilla schemes because of the looming regular-season matchup.
Chudzinski said Cameron has a better understanding of the game this season, which has led to his success.
“He’s a young guy and there’s a lot to learn at that position, and we ask a lot from guys at that position,” Chudzinski said. “His athleticism has really shown, and when he gets opportunities, he’s making the plays.”
Cameron has been so good, Lions players said it’s fair to compare him to the league’s top tight ends — Graham, Gates, New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez. Lions safety Glover Quin said Cameron’s confidence must be sky high knowing he’s entered that conversation.
And stopping a 6-foot-5, 245-pound target is nearly impossible.
“You’ve just got to try to go for the ball in some kind of way,” Quin said. “Obviously, if you’re behind him he’s going to block you out, and if you’re in front of him a lot of time the quarterback might throw it high and he jumps over you.
“It’s a team game, so hopefully the D-line gets pressure, somebody makes a bad throw and you have an opportunity to get around him and get your hands on it.”
Whether it’s a linebacker or safety covering Cameron, Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer said the defense needs to be aware of where he is every play.
“For us to stop him, we just have to execute our scheme and what we’re going to be running to perfection,” he said.
Delmas said the whole defense needs to work together to stop Cameron, but believes the Lions are up to the challenge.
“If you watch film, you’ll see that he dominates everybody he plays against,” Delmas said. “I know it’s going to be a tough matchup.”