Allen Park — The Detroit Lions know what they have in T.J. Hockenson, their young, still-improving Pro Bowler. And Darren Fells, an eight-year veteran who spent the 2017 season with the franchise, is also a known commodity.
But the team’s third tight end job remains up for grabs. Although the group of contenders is relatively inexperienced, they offer some stylistic options when it’s time for general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell to make those decisions.
“Really, ultimately, you need a guy who is smart enough and versatile enough to handle both duties, both jobs, if something happens to one of your guys,” Campbell said ahead of Monday’s training camp practice.
Reading between the lines with Campbell, as well as seeing how the options are being utilized in the practice rotation, Alize Mack appears to be the early front-runner for the job.
A 2019 seventh-round pick who was coached by Campbell in New Orleans that year, Mack has been seeing plenty of action with the second-team offense where he’s flashed his potential as a pass-catcher, while also showing the need for improvement as a blocker.
Campbell is counting on Mack to make strides in another area if he’s going to contribute for the Lions in 2021.
“I told Mack this morning, I’m like, ‘Man, you’re growing as a tight end, you got to help us on special teams,'” Campbell said. “And he is. He’s growing. But I’m like, ‘Man, astronomically, you have to improve. Like, this thing’s got to come in a hurry.’ He knows that and he’s been working at it. But he brings kind of a skill set to that position that is unique. I mean, he can separate a little bit, so that’s encouraging.”
Another contender is Charlie Taumoepeau, who played his college ball at Portland State, the opposite end of the football spectrum from Mack’s experience at Notre Dame.
Taumoepeau is undersized, listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, but he’s been a matchup problem in the passing game in recent days.
“Charlie, he’s maybe the farthest away,” Campbell acknowledged. “He’s the rawest, too. He really hasn’t played. He’s young, but man, he’s a pretty good athlete. He’s pretty crafty and he’s tough.
“I’ll be honest with you, we didn’t quite know about that. Is this kid going to be tough enough to do some of those things that we’re going to ask our tight ends to do? I’ll tell you what, he’s out there. It’s been encouraging. He’ll mix it up. He just needs reps and reps and reps, but he’s been pretty good.”
Additionally, the Lions have big-bodied Hunter Thedford (6-6, 270) and undrafted rookie Brock Wright making a play for the job.
“I feel like each one of those guys can do something, so that third spot is in pretty good (shape),” Fells said.