Detroit News sportswriters Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers take a look at the upcoming season for the Detroit Lions. Detroit News
Allen Park — The Arizona Cardinals didn’t give Darren Fells his first opportunity when the 6-foot-7 former power forward opted to quit professional basketball to pursue an NFL career, but it was the Cardinals who put the time into developing him, allowing him to become the success story he is today.
After a brief, offseason stint with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013, Fells spent four years with the Cardinals, making an unprecedented switch from hoops to one of the NFL’s better blocking tight ends. That’s led him to Detroit, where he signed this offseason to fill that role on the Lions’ roster.
“They got a solid football player who can run, catch,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said on a conference call this week with Detroit reporters. “Came a long way from a basketball player, because most of those guys won’t hit, but he’ll block.”
Even though Arizona didn’t push to retain him this offseason, Fells has nothing but love for the organization, especially Arians.
“Your spot isn’t always secure, and for him to believe in me and give me a shot for four years there, it means a lot and helped me develop as a player,” Fells said. “There definitely is a fondness there. They gave me my start and a lot of opportunities there. I can’t take that for granted. I loved every moment I was there.”
Fells maintains a close bond with many of his former teammates, but his priority this week is helping the Lions snap a seven-game losing streak in the series. And while the plan is to do his part on the field, he’s also lending a hand behind the scenes, as the coaching staff works on its game plan.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said players like Fells, who have extensive experience in another team’s system, can help coaches better understand what they’re seeing during film study.
“Those things are real,” Cooter said. “It’s not always some huge, major event. It might be just some small thing that helps us get a defensive card right, but those things matter, those things count and he does provide value.”
Fells also has been providing individual tips to his teammates who have asked.
The Lions are counting on Fells to play a big role this season — not just as a blocker, but also as a pass-catcher. His presence also is expected to free up teammate Eric Ebron to line up in spots more conducive to maximizing his skill-set as pass catcher.
In 38 career games, Fells has averaged a shade over one reception per game. He caught only one ball during the preseason. One of his four career touchdowns came the last time the Cardinals traveled to Ford Field, in 2015. The 14-yard score in the first quarter tied the game, 7-7. Arizona would go on to win the meeting, 42-17.