Oakland, Calif. — When the Lions finalize their roster in a couple weeks, they’re going to have some difficult decisions at wide receiver, which is ultimately a good problem to have.
Several receivers made nice plays in Friday’s 27-26 exhibition loss to the Oakland Raiders, and the competition for the final few spots at that position is among the tightest on the roster.
“I think this is the deepest group of receivers we’ve had since I’ve been here,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “This is the best competition going on in practice and in preseason that I’ve seen in a while here, and that’s a good thing for us.”
Behind Calvin Johnson, who didn’t play Friday, and Golden Tate, who had a 28-yard touchdown among his three catches, the Lions have little clarity on the depth chart, and Friday’s game didn’t help.
Jeremy Ross, who should make the roster as the primary returner, had two catches for 42 yards. Kevin Ogletree, who’s been the No. 3 receiver for most of camp, had a 16-yard reception on his only target.
Ryan Broyles added two catches for 42 yards, including a 34-yard reception in which he gained 32 yards after the catch.
“I just try to score every time I get the ball,” he said. “I have something to prove. I played that way in college. I haven’t been able to do that in the NFL. … Hopefully I can continue to do that.”
Kris Durham had two catches for 6 yards, but one was a 4-yard touchdown on a heavily-defended fade route.
Corey Fuller, a 2013 sixth-round pick, deserves a mention with a 15-yard reception in which he was stopped just short of the end zone. He also scored the game-winning touchdown last week.
Undrafted rookie Andrew Peacock had two catches for 14 yards, including a nice 12-yarder. Patrick Edwards also had two catches for 11 yards.
“I think they are making some progress,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “They’re catching the ball better, which is key, and some guys are getting open and making some things happen and that’s the way it’s supposed to look like in this offense.
“Whoever’s in there should be able to make some plays and play well, and some of the young guys have been playing pretty well. It was good to see actually. Any time that it gets tough in terms of competition where it makes your decision very difficult, that’s good for us.”
Broyles, of course, is the feel-good story of the group after bouncing back from his third season-ending injury in as many years.
“You’re just happy for the kid,” Stafford said. “He’s worked so hard, overcome so many injuries, just always kept the same attitude, the same positive demeanor and showed up and made some plays tonight.”
But heartwarming stories won’t decide which receivers the Lions keep on the roster.
Both of Broyles’ catches converted first downs Friday, and last week two of his three catches went for first downs. Making plays will help Broyles earn a role this year, but the best news for the Lions is that he looks healthy.
“I feel great,” he said. “I can’t ask to feel any better, to be honest.”
Broyles, a second-round pick in 2012, had another target in which he took a hard hit from two defenders. After suffering a torn ACL as a rookie and ruptured Achilles tendon last year, there’s always a brief pause when Broyles goes down hard, but he popped right back up.
“It’s football,” he said. “You get back up, and you dust it off.”