Lions coach Matt Patricia talks about dealing with the heat this week in Houston By Matt Schoch, Special to The Detroit News
Allen Park — Aside from a few stray dirty dishes and maybe a testy FIFA video game match here and there, Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham have typically enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.
But the former Old Dominion roommates, both with a common goal of making the Lions 53-man roster, are in the crosshairs now as camp shifts this week to Houston for joint practices and the second preseason game on Saturday against the Texans.
Jermaine Kearse’s season-ending injury in the preseason opener has opened the door for a handful of wide receivers to compete for roster spots as reserves, or possible work on the practice squad.
For close friends Duhart and Fulgham, it’s just like Manchester United against Borussia Dortmund in their FIFA video tussle once again.
“That’s my brother,” Fulgham said Tuesday after practice. “We’re always competing so it’s good to have that still from Old Dominion.”
Joked Durhart over the weekend: “He can be annoying at times. I’m just kidding, he’s a good guy. I love him to death.”
In their first two seasons together at Old Dominion, Duhart outgained Fulgham, who came to the Monarchs as a walk-on.
A fractured foot early in 2017 gave Duhart a fifth year last season. Both players finished strong last fall in Norfolk, with Fulgham gaining 1,083 receiving yards to Duhart’s 1,045 in a 4-8 season that featured a stunning upset of No. 10 Virginia Tech.
After the New York Giants made defensive end Oshane Ximines ODU’s first draftee in the third round, the Lions made Fulgham their first of two sixth-round draft picks.
Duhart, who was one of the first to congratulate Fulgham on the selection, phoned his roommate again after the draft about his own call from Lions wide receivers coach Robert Prince, indicating they would again be teammates.
“It’s a blessing because I know a lot of guys have to go through this alone,” Duhart said. “It can be tough with those early mornings and those late nights. Having him here is big for us: Big for me, big for him, big for the school.”
In Detroit, there’s a clear hierarchy in the wide receiver room, with starters Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola flanked by a collection of rookies, former practice squad guys, and even a former college lacrosse star in Tom Kennedy.
Fulgham and Duhart find themselves somewhere down the depth chart, although Andy Jones and Chris Lacy already have experience with the Lions, and Brandon Powell and Tommylee Lewis bring capability in the return game.
Duhart and Fulgham shifted from outside to the slot at ODU, and both said they’re eager to prove their worth on special teams, a necessity for any future on the fringes of an NFL roster.
"With the wide receiver group you’re trying to find out, ‘Are these guys flexible? Can they move into different roles? Can they have different responsibilities within the offensive system?’ That would be first and foremost,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “Those guys that can kind of come in — when you start to move down the wide receiver, or really any depth chart some of those reps are going to have to be mental. When you go in and have your opportunity you have to perform, there’s not going to be a lot of opportunity because that’s what it’s going to be like during the season.”
Neither made a catch in the NFL debuts. Duhart got two targets and Fulgham had one on Thursday against New England, as quarterback David Fales and the offense sputtered in a 31-3 loss.
In Houston, Fulgham declined to name any cornerbacks he’s eager to line up against, though he said he remembers Lonnie Johnson Jr., a second-round pick out of Kentucky from the Senior Bowl.
Both former Monarchs made touchdown catches in individual drills at practice on Tuesday, but made no impact in full squad drills as Fales struggled.
With camp officially ending this week in Houston, the time is ticking for both players to show they should stick.
"At the end of the day, if I play hard, I consider that a successful day for me,” Duhart said Saturday, after he made two straight catches in full squad drills in the first practice since Kearse’s injury. “I try not to take any snaps for granted and just work hard every day. That’s my goal.”
Speaking generally about the non-starters at wide receiver, Patricia said it’s up to the coaching staff to find out what they do well, and put them in those spots.
This week in the Texas heat, the former Monarchs will look to show it all.
“I expected the long days, and rookies probably getting the worst of it, but I love every part of it,” Fulgham said. “As a wide receiver, you just have to make sure everything’s on point.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.