Allen Park — Joseph Fauria has several touchdown dances planned for 2014.
“Put a bunch in bold when you write this,” the Lions second-year tight end said.
And, according to Lions tight end coach Ron Prince, the exuberant tight end will have a chance to play a pivotal role in the offense this year even with veteran Brandon Pettigrew and first-round pick Eric Ebron on the roster.
As an undrafted rookie out of UCLA in 2013, Fauria put on a show during training camp, displaying strong hands and a knack for high-pointing passes in the end zone, which helped him make the roster.
Last season, the 6-foot-7 Fauria was effectively a one-trick pony, but he excelled at his trick. He finished the year with 18 catches for 207 yards and seven touchdowns, becoming a go-to red-zone target for Matthew Stafford because the quarterback could throw balls high in the end zone knowing Fauria would be the only one who could catch them.
Although Fauria was productive as used, he averaged just 19½ snaps per game because of his struggles as a blocker and lackluster route running. This year, though, Prince said Fauria has rounded out his game.
“He’s really dedicated himself to improving (as a blocker) and really all areas of his game — his route running, his protections, run game, identification, coverages,” Prince said. “I really couldn’t be more pleased.”
So far in training camp, Fauria has split time with the first- and second-team offenses, and he’s earned reps everywhere on the field. The Lions have also shown more trust in Fauria’s ability as a blocker by putting him on the kickoff return and field goal units.
But Fauria still plans to deliver on offense, and even though Ebron might cut into what would have been an expanded role, Fauria is focused on improving his own game.
“I feel like no matter what the situation is, you’ve got to keep your head down,” Fauria said. “I did it once before, last year, and I’m doing it again this year. I’m just trying to make the team and help my team win.”
Of course, Prince said the Lions personnel — with two other tight ends, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and a stable of multidimensional backs — won’t determine how much of a role Fauria can have this season.
“Coach (Jim) Caldwell and (offensive coordinator Joe) Lombardi have a very creative mind, and we’ve got some different things going in that we’ve been working on,” Prince said. “So I don’t really see there being any issue of having a role in the offense and being able to contribute in a significant way.”
During the offseason, Fauria did yoga and tried to improve his speed and strength. He also tried to improve his catching ability, mastering the part of his game that was already a strength.
Fauria’s unimpressive blocking last season was a result of technique more than anything else, Prince said. The tight end too often used his upper body instead of legs to block, which is something the new coaches have already adjusted.
“His stance is vastly improved,” Prince said. “If you look at him in his stance, you’d never know he’s 6-7. I think fundamentally he’s doing all the right things and really dedicated himself to being an all-around player.”
Caldwell said he’s seen Fauria improve as an in-line blocker, but he wants to see how that translates to game situations in the exhibition opener Saturday against Cleveland.
Many of Fauria’s routes last season also ended with him stopped at the top, so even when he played outside the red zone, he rarely had opportunities to gains yards after the catch. Prince said the tight ends this season have worked on improving their routes with an emphasis on break points, so safeties and linebackers can’t read in which direction they’re going.
And if Fauria does reach the end zone, he’ll be ready to wow the fans with the dance moves that helped him gain popularity last year.
“Part of NFL football is entertainment, and I want to show my appreciation by having fun and smiling and having a good time,” said Fauria, who was a regular on NFL Network and other TV programs during the offseason.
He’ll still be the same fun-loving guy who waits to sign autographs for as many fans as possible after camp practices, but Fauria admitted he could become more professional. Last week when he dropped a rare pass, he slammed his hand on the ground and said he’s better prepared to handle the ups and downs of an NFL player in 2014.
“I came to the NFL to play,” he said. “I’m here now, and I want to stay and make a career, have success and I want to win.”
Browns at Lions
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Exhibition opener
TV/radio: NFL Network, Channel 7/97.1
Line: Lions by 2½