Detroit — Unlike the end of last season, when the Lions struggled with Calvin Johnson nursing injuries, the wide receiver position could be one of the team’s strongest this season.
Adding free agent Golden Tate was a big boost, but the improved depth is making it difficult to project who will make the final 53-man roster. The Lions likely will keep five or six receivers, but unlike last season, Corey Fuller could find himself on the team this year.
“We’ve got some guys doing well this year in camp,” Johnson said. “Corey Fuller has become night and day from last year.”
Fuller, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, has been turning heads in camp for his consistency, speed and catching ability.
That combination of skills was on display in the opening exhibition game, when he caught the go-ahead touchdown on a go-route from Kellen Moore.
“All of us quarterbacks have loved throwing to Corey this offseason. He’s been doing a great job and has continued to improve,” Moore said. “No doubt. He really took advantage of the practice squad year. Practicing and doing things outside of practice to get better and you can see it.”
Fuller said he worked on every aspect of his game since last season to help him better compete for a roster spot this year and that coaches didn’t give him one particular area of focus.
“I tried to work on everything, trying to catch as many balls as I possibly can, running routes, just sprinting and technical things like that,” he said. “I can’t even pinpoint one thing. I’m not going to say that I’m a totally different player because I still have a lot more to do.”
Johnson, Tate and Jeremy Ross (kick returner) likely are guaranteed to make the final roster. That means there are either two or three available positions, with Fuller, Ryan Broyles, Kevin Durham and Kevin Ogletree among the frontrunners.
But with the deadline to trim rosters approaching Aug. 30, Fuller is trying not to stress too much about where he stands.
“I wouldn’t say it weighs on me on a daily basis,” he said. “Of course, everybody is going to think about. I think about it, but at the end of the day, I come out here and give it everything I’ve got.
“Hopefully, somebody will see it and I can get a shot.”
With a new scheme installed under the direction of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, Fuller has made an impression with his play so far.
“Corey has shown a lot of ability to stretch the field, get downfield and make big plays,” Lombardi said. “He’s got a skill set that is very enticing for speed and he’s tall and runs good routes. I’m really impressed with him.”
In his second season out of Virginia Tech, Fuller has shown a level of maturity in improving his game last season that has impressed first-year coach Jim Caldwell. With the third exhibition game Friday night against the Jaguars at Ford Field, Fuller might be poised to make a final statement in the competition.
“He’s been making some plays. I think you can see out here that he’s been catching the ball well,” Caldwell said. “Oftentimes, that’s what maturity does for you. He’s been in the league for a short period of time and he’s gotten better than he was last year. We anticipate that he will continue to improve.”
Moving Megatron around
One of the additions in Lombardi’s offensive scheme is moving Johnson around before the snap. That allows the flexibility to have Johnson finally line up out wide or in the slot, putting defenses in a quandary.
“You never know how a defense is going to respond; you can watch film all you want, but there’s always going to be a few nuances every game,” Johnson said. “For the most part, you get an idea about what they’re going to do.
For everybody, it helps see what the coverage is. If the man follows me over, we have a good idea it’s going to be (man-to-man). Especially for the quarterback; he’ll know what look he’s getting into and where to go with the ball.”
Though the Lions had depth issues at cornerback and with Chris Houston’s departure, there was a concern that defensive back would be a position of weakness.
But rookie fourth-round pick Nevin Lawson is drawing notice with his play so far in the preseason. At 5-9, 190 pounds, Lawson doesn’t have ideal size, but he’s making up for it with competitive grit.
“He’s a typical young guy. He’s going to make some mistakes, but he has really good football sense. He’s tough, competitive, he has all the things you want in a football player,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “It’s probably going to take him a while to catch up to the speed of the schemes and the way things happen in this league. He’s got some upside and really plays bigger than his size.
“He’s not a big guy, but when you watch him compete with the big guys, he can.”