Lions’ Pettigrew near return, won’t rule out Sunday

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It’s a been a frustrating year for Brandon Pettigrew, but the Lions tight end is closing in on a potential return and is eager to contribute whatever he can to a team seeking its first division title in 23 years.

Pettigrew, who returned to practice last week, has spent the year on the physically unable to perform list after tearing his ACL last December. It’s the third time he’s suffered the injury, which has helped give him the necessary understanding and patience as he’s worked his way through rehab.

Detroit still has two weeks before it must decide whether to add the eight-year veteran to the active roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve, but Pettigrew remains optimistic he’ll get medically cleared.

“Do I want to play?” he said. “I’m here seven days a week working my butt off. I think I want to play.”

Pettigrew is mentally ready to return the field. He’s stayed involved in the classroom and with his film study, keeping his mind sharp. Now he’s working on building back up the required endurance and could return to the field as soon as next weekend against the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m not really pushing it too much, but I’m not far off.” he said. “I’m not going to say for certain I’m going to play Sunday. We’ll see where I’m at at the end of the week.”

With Pettigrew out, Eric Ebron has dominated the playing time at the tight end position, recording 35 catches for 451 yards and a touchdown in eight starts. Even before the injury, Pettigrew’s role in the passing game had drastically shrunk, from 83 receptions in 2011 to 17 in 22 games over the past two years.

But none of that matters to Pettigrew. He’s watched from the sideline as the Lions have reeled off seven come-from-behind wins and wants to help anywhere he can.

“What I bring to the table, I think it brings an element to the game that puts us over the top, get us past what we’ve been struggling with a little bit,” Pettigrew said. “Every player has their certain skill set. I’m clearly known as a blocker. I’m just ready to get back and offer that.”

While he declined to clarify where the team has struggled, it’s easy to assume Pettigrew was referencing the Lions’ run game, which ranks 30th in the NFL heading into Sunday’s game with the Saints.

He also declined to comment on his future with the organization. But with a $4.35 million base salary owed in 2017, this could be his last hurrah with the Lions, who selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft.

“I’m here now,” he said. “That’s what I’m worried about. I’m not worried about too far in the future.”