Darren Fells finds familiar role in return to Lions as mentor to young tight end

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The building is the same, and the city hasn't changed all that much, but in the four years since Darren Fells last played for the Detroit Lions, almost everything else has shifted. 

It's a different front office, a different coaching staff, and nearly the entire roster has been turned over during that time. In a lot of ways, that's just life in the NFL. 

Lions tight ends Darren Fells and T.J. Hockenson head to the next drills during Thursday's minicamp in Allen Park.

But for all the changes, Fells' role is going to be pretty similar to his last stint with the Lions. He's here to do the dirty work and help mentor a young, talented tight end who was drafted in the first round, but is still light on experience. 

In 2017, that was Eric Ebron. Now Fells is being paired with T.J. Hockenson, who earned a Pro Bowl selection in his second season last year, but has room to be even better. Fells is eager to help Hockenson not only elevate his production, but also his swagger. 

"I've always felt like T.J. has been an extremely athletic and talented player," Fells said. "So being able to come in here and mentor him a little bit, it's an awesome thing. He's more of an F tight end — faster, moving around, receiving — and I'm more of a Y tight end, where I can go in there and do a little bit more of the dirty work.

"Had the conversation with him already, that if we're both in there, I'll be like an extra lineman for him, to give him time to get open, so he can bump that touchdown total up to 12," Fells said. "Then I can help him with his celebrations, because those are pretty bad right now."

Fells had a bit of fun poking fun at Hockenson's all-business approach once he finds the end zone, which he's done eight times his first two seasons, including six scores in 2020. 

"His whole big thing was he just catches it and falls down, pops up and throws the arms up," Fells said. "So anything is better than that. We talked about seeing what his dance moves are. I haven't taken him out to a club or anything due to COVID, so we'll see if he has those kinds of moves. Right now, we're just trying to figure out what looks good to him."

Since leaving Detroit, the 35-year-old Fells has developed his own scoring knack. He found paydirt a career-high seven times in 2019 and followed it up with four more touchdowns last season.

The former pro basketball player, who logged some seasons playing internationally before switching to football in 2013, said the increased receiving production was largely because of how he was utilized by the Houston Texans during his two years with the team. 

"They involved me more in the pass game, compared to previous years, when I was more of just a blocking tight end for the other teams," Fells said. "But my mindset has always been, whatever the team needs, I'm going to do. Houston wanted me to be more of a receiving tight end, so I went out there and did what I would."

Blough fitting in with new staff

It didn't take quarterback David Blough long to win over coach Dan Campbell

“Look, I love the kid if I’m being totally honest with you," Campbell said earlier this week. "...Look, he’s smart. He’s extremely smart. He knows where to go with the football, I love his timing. He knows how to command the huddle, he communicates well and on top of that, he’s a hell of a dude, by the way. He just is. So, he has not disappointed. He’s doing a good job. He’s out there competing with the rest of those guys.”

Blough, in his third season with the Lions, projects as the team's third quarterback, behind starter Jared Goff and free-agent addition Tim Boyle. Even though he lost the regime that brought him to Detroit and invested two years to develop him, he'll have a shot to maintain his roster spot with a strong training camp and preseason. 

After a few weeks of digging into the new scheme, being implemented by coordinator Anthony Lynn, Blough likes what he's seen. 

"I think it's going to be high-efficient throws," he said. "I think when you think quarterback-friendly, you think high efficiency. You think leaning on your run game. You think being able to take shots down the field off the play-action pass. We've been stressed in that way and I know everybody can say that, but Coach Lynn has done a great job giving us information and allowing us to go out and try and master it. He's facilitating all of it along the way and he has just encouraged us to kind of make it our own a little bit, you know? As quarterbacks, you love when coaches empower you to go and play good ball."

In addition to Blough's quest to win a job, his wife, Melissa Gonzalez, is on the cusp of qualifying for the Olympics as a hurdler for Colombia.

"June 29th, we'll know for sure," Blough said. "If it ended today, she'd be in. We're really excited about what this summer could look like for her. These next few weeks will be some heavy training loads, then yeah, hopefully I'll be staying up 'till 2 a.m. one night in training camp watching her in Japan."


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers