Versatile TE Darren Fells 'on fire' in Lions practice

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Wide receiver Golden Tate, left, dumps water on tight end Darren Fells at training camp on Monday. "Let me cool you off because you were hot today,” Tate said. “You You were catching anything near you."

Allen Park — In most cases, the big blockers along the offensive line don’t get a lot of the focus, with many fans watching where the ball goes.

It’s not necessarily the case for Lions tight end Darren Fells, who has the build and blocking skills of a lineman, but is showing he has good hands of a receiver as well.

Fells garnered some attention and applause on Monday during the second day of training camp for his catches and blocking and overall production.

Following practice, as Fells addressed media members, Lions receiver Golden Tate walked by and poured a bottle of water over Fells’ head.

“Today, he was on fire so I was pouring water to cool him off because he was catching everything and making big plays for us,” Tate said. “To see him come in and execute like that is special.”

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It’s a bit of a departure from the norm for Fells, 31, whom the Lions signed to a one-year contract in the offseason. He’s remained mostly quiet and in the background, but with performances like Monday’s he can open some eyes.

At 6-foot-7, 280 pounds, he’s hard to miss and is an ideal target for quarterback Matthew Stafford, complementing what Eric Ebron brings as the primary receiving tight end. Fells, though, is regarded more for his blocking than his hands, which made Monday’s eye-opening production even more intriguing.

“I’ve always felt I can catch the ball. I feel like I’m a chameleon; if you need me to do it, I’ll attempt to do it and try my best at it,” Fells said. “I told (Stafford) I’ll catch it if he throws it to me — high, I’ll get a rebound. I’m trying to be part of whatever they need me to do to get a championship.”

The Lions are the latest stop for Fells, who played the last three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and totaled 40 catches for 536 yards and four touchdowns. Before that, he played basketball internationally but gravitated back to football.

He’ll likely find a bigger niche as a blocking tight end in the Lions’ scheme, helping to protect Stafford and to buoy the running game. True to his chameleon comparison, Fells is just looking for playing time and an opportunity to fit in and contribute in whatever way he can.

“Every team is different and you fit a different role,” he said. “They want me to come in here and be a big-time blocker, so I’m planning on doing that. If they want me to run routes, I’ll go out and do that too.”

Along with Ebron, Fells could help to form a potent combination in a set with two tight ends. His versatile skill set has caught coach Jim Caldwell’s eye early, which could lead to some more reps in the offense for Fells.

“He’s a bit more mobile than what people expect and anticipate. He can catch the ball and can do it in a number of different areas,” Caldwell said. “Today, he had a couple of pretty nice catches. He’s working at it and getting better. He’s a big target.”

While they’ve also mixed in some looks with three wide receivers, the Lions could bolster the run game with more double-tight-end schemes, utilizing another option with Fells at the line and Ebron in a pass pattern.

Ebron missed Monday’s practice because of a mild injury, but Fells provided a teaser on what the offense could become.

“It’s really always been something we’ve had in our package; you have to do things according to what your personnel groupings allow and your best players allow in that regard,” Caldwell said. “We do have a few more guys at that spot so we may be able to incorporate maybe a little bit more and often those things go game by game depending on what we face but we do have some possibilities.”