Allen Park — On the surface, Darren Fells certainly looked like the Lions’ No. 1 tight end.
Fells was targeted five times in the passing game and finished with a team-high four receptions in Sunday’s 14-7 grind-it-out win over the Vikings.
All four of his catches went for 10 yards and moved the chains, including twice on third down. And three of his receptions came during a 15-play, 82-yard drive that resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Matt Prater and a 3-0 lead with 10:47 left in the second quarter.
Not bad for a blocking tight end.
“Once we had him (Fells) here, we had a chance to kind of look at his skill level both on the line of scrimmage and receiving, and he’s got talent,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. “I mean you can kind of see, he’s a big body, he’s got nice hands and he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it.
“Those first downs that he was able to get, the four that he was able to get were key. Battling for them, and driving forward and making a huge difference in the game, but you haven’t seen the best of him yet. He’s capable.”
That’s not to mention Fells’ effectiveness as an extra offensive lineman. He spent most of his time lined up next to left tackle Greg Robinson, helping contain Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen and opening running lanes as the Lions established a commitment to the ground game.
As a result, Fells (6-foot-7, 270 pounds) was on the field for 73 percent of the offensive plays (51 snaps). He was also rated as the Lions top offensive player of the game by Pro Football Focus with an 83.3 overall grade.
Meanwhile, starting tight end Eric Ebron played a season-low 44 percent (31 snaps) of the offensive snaps and tallied two catches for 27 yards.
It was the third game this season and second straight week Ebron has finished with two receptions, following his nine-yard, two-drop performance against the Falcons. His best outing was a five-catch, 42-yard showing in Week 2 against the Giants when he also hauled in a 7-yard touchdown.
However, Caldwell said Ebron’s role hasn’t evolved and that there’s not “something else going on.” Rather, the former first-round pick’s playing time depends on the opponent and game plan.
“We’re wrapped in different personnel groupings, they mix and match here and there, so you may mention that this game, next game you might see a few more the other way around,” Caldwell said. “Eric’s doing good, he’s doing well. He made a couple nice catches for us that were huge catches and a nice catch and run on both.
“He’s not going to get 10 balls every game, or five balls like he did a couple weeks ago. But when he gets an opportunity, he’s just got to take advantage of it.”