Cleveland —The suggestion box is open.
And so is Joseph Fauria, seemingly every time he’s on the field.
But before you start looking for the hidden reasons the Lions’ rookie tight end is fast becoming a cult hero in Detroit, you might as well state the obvious.
“First of all, he’s tall as hell,” head coach Jim Schwartz explained.
“I mean, he’s a 7-foot behemoth of a man out there,” receiver Kris Durham said.
This, then, is how the legend grows. Fauria, who’s a mere 6-foot-7 behemoth, actually, had the biggest game of his young NFL career Sunday, catching three touchdown passes in the Lions’ 31-17 win over the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
And that’s two more scores than he’d planned for, apparently. Because after Fauria’s initial end-zone celebration — already one of his calling cards six weeks into his first season as a pro — he was fresh out of material.
“Yeah, I had to reach in my back pocket for some more,” said Fauria, who opted for a windmill dunk over the crossbar after hauling in a 23-yarder between two defenders for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter.
Fauria, a native Californian who certainly acts the part, went Hollywood with his ’N Sync-inspired touchdown dance in the Lions win at Washington last month, drawing attention — and a $10,000 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation — from late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon.
Sunday, he was money again. After Fauria snared a 1-yard toss from Matthew Stafford over safety Johnson Bademosi late in the first quarter, he launched into his rendition of the “Gas Pedal,” though he was quick to admit after the game it was a low-octane version.
“I couldn’t do a handstand and twerk, so I probably didn’t do it as well as I could,” Fauria deadpanned. “But I was just really happy. And I just … you know, that happens sometimes.”
It’s happening with great regularity for this undrafted free agent out of UCLA, obviously. Sunday’s hat trick gives him five TD receptions — one more than Calvin Johnson for the team lead — among his seven total catches this season, which prompts the question why he’s not targeted more often. (Answer: Rest assured, he will be, especially with Tony Scheffler out indefinitely after another concussion last week.)
“That’s pretty good,” Stafford said, smiling as he talked about how Fauria’s happy-go-lucky “energy” has helped the big rookie carve out a niche already in this offense.
“And it’s not ‘Me, me, me,’ ” Stafford added. “He’s just happy to be in the end zone.”
His teammates couldn’t be happier for him, watching the big guy cut loose as he breaks out. His third touchdown of the day, a 10-yarder on a back-shoulder throw from Stafford to ice the victory with 2:01 to play, was capped by an old-school “Cabbage Patch” dance.
“He’s more like a white Chad Johnson out there,” safety Louis Delmas joked. “For every touchdown he has, he has a celebration.
“But you know what? For him to work as hard as he does in practice, and for him to put the team on his back and damn near win the game by himself, he deserves to have that celebration. And he deserves to feel like he’s on top of the world.”
The view from up there is pretty nice, Fauria admits.
“But I’ve worked hard to (get) where I am today,” he said. “The odds were against me being an undrafted guy. But I overcame and I’m going to continue to do so. … Being a rookie, being young, you’ve got to work your way up and earn that trust.”
Size and strength
Being 6-foot-7, he has a built-in advantage there. But, as Schwartz noted Sunday, “There’s a lot of tall guys that aren’t good football players.”
What separates Fauria is his strength — “He’s got really strong hands,” Schwartz said — and his body control, helped by his basketball and volleyball background. That and his outsized confidence in his own ability, which might be the greatest strength a pass-catcher can have in the NFL. (And something the Lions’ Patrick Edwards, for example, could use right now.)
The Lions knew what Fauria had before they snapped him up as an undrafted free agent this spring. They saw it firsthand in training camp as he played his way onto the 53-man roster. And now they’re seeing it in games, as he exploits single coverage in the red zone while Johnson — even on a gimpy right knee — gets most of the defense’s attention.
“People are probably going to have to start looking at (Fauria) and doubling him,” Durham said.
Until, then, they’re probably going to have to look at more of Fauria’s dance moves.
“I’m taking suggestions in my suggestion box,” he said Sunday.
And it sounds like he’s open to just about anything.