Lions' Michael Roberts not fazed, looks to be part of 'prolific' tight end group
Allen Park — First came the free agents, then the first-round draft pick.
But despite all the new investments in the tight end room, holdover Michael Roberts said Tuesday he’s confident as ever heading into year three.
“I’m excited,” said Roberts, after mostly working with the first team at the first of three straight days this week at mandatory minicamp. “I’m glad I get to work with some talented guys and continue to learn.
“I hope that as a whole that we’re one of the most prolific tight end groups in the NFL this year.”
That certainly wasn’t the case last year, and veterans Luke Willson (Oakland) and Levine Toilolo (San Francisco) are now elsewhere. The pair and Roberts combined for 43 catches, less than 14 individual tight ends league-wide.
The Lions signed Jesse James from Pittsburgh and took T.J. Hockenson No. 8 out of Iowa in the draft. Further crowding the field is signee Logan Thomas, a converted tight end who is now with his fifth franchise after being drafted as a quarterback by Arizona in the 2014 fourth round.
Tight ends coach Chris White said last week he was excited to see the 27-year-old Thomas in action, a statement backed up by his regular reps in organized team activities and Tuesday at the opening of minicamp.
Along with Jerome Cunningham, who has spent most of his five seasons on practice squads, Roberts is the known commodity for head coach Matt Patricia and fans.
But Roberts said he expects a new level of production under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, as Jermaine Wiggins, Visanthe Shiancoe, Zach Miller, Willson and Jimmy Graham all experienced some success under Bevell in Minnesota and Seattle.
“I mean, it’s a West Coast offense,” Roberts said. “You see what they do over on the West Coast with the tight ends. We’re bringing that to the Midwest, so I love Bevell’s offense, his ideas, the way his mind works.
“It’s set up for a tight end to thrive.”
We’ll find out soon if the positive feelings are mutual, although if Patricia’s declarations about the game moving toward the tight end position are true, there could be room for more on the roster.
“That’s above my paygrade with that,” Roberts said. “I’m just trying to be the most well-rounded tight end I can be, that’s blocking and pass-catching.
“Give them no choice but to put me on the field.”
Roberts, a fourth-round pick in 2017 from Toledo, caught nine passes for 100 yards and three touchdowns last season in eight games, a disappointing output after the departure of starter Eric Ebron.
Injuries hampered Roberts throughout — a knee injury forced him out of action early, then a shoulder injury ended his season after Week 13.
“It was a disappointing year for me,” Roberts said. “I feel like I left a lot out there.
“I think I’ve only been able to show instances and glimpses of it. I’m really working to be the most consistent and well-rounded player I can be on this team.”
Well, he now has a history breaking curses.
Detroit sports fans will hear a familiar voice during three Lions preseason games this summer, as Fred McLeod will man the play-by-play duties for WJBK-TV (Channel 2).
Since leaving Detroit in 2006, McLeod has been the play-by-play announcer for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, including when the team broke the city’s 52-year championship curse in 2016.
“Knowing what it meant to the town, no sports city in America deserved it more because it’s not the fans’ fault,” McLeod said Tuesday at Lions’ minicamp. “To see grown men cry and watching videos still of how people celebrate, it’s something I’ll never forget in my sports life.”
McLeod, who was did play-by-play for the Pistons for 22 straight seasons, also did six seasons of 1980s preseason games for the Lions, who have gone 61 seasons since the 1957 championship. During his run in Detroit, McLeod was a broadcaster on WJBK and WDIV (Channel 4).
“I have so many great memories of Detroit — my kids born here and it’s such a big part of my television career,” McLeod said. “And I love what’s going on here (with the Lions), and it’ll be fun to tell those stories.”
McLeod will work the preseason opener against New England on Aug. 8 from Ford Field and games at Houston on Aug. 17 and at Cleveland on Aug. 29. The Aug. 23 home game against Buffalo will be carried nationally on CBS.
Matt Shepard previously called Lions preseason games but is now the Tigers play-by-play television broadcaster.
Former Lions linebacker Chris Spielman will handle color commentary with McLeod and Tori Petry will work the sidelines.
The Lions had a handful of officials working during team drills, keeping them busy with flags flying about a half-dozen times.
Head coach Matt Patricia said the Lions are “understanding what they’re looking for, some of the different rule changes, emphasis, interpretation is always a big one for us, as we go through and try to understand what they’re looking for and how they’re calling a game.”
In addition to teams being able to challenge pass interference calls, the competition committee expanded protections for defenseless players.
Tuesday was a non-contact practice, but undrafted rookie offensive lineman Ryan Pope, defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, wide receiver Brandon Powell and offensive lineman Joe Dahl were among the players who jogged a lap after being called for infractions on Tuesday.
Dahl was playing center when he was flagged but also spent time at both guard positions on Tuesday.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer; Justin Rogers contributed