Detroit Lions’ DJ Chark looks like wise free agent investment two weeks into training camp

Detroit Free Press

DJ Chark’s first visit to Ford Field could not have gone much better.

The Detroit Lions‘ new deep-threat receiver predicted his big performance Saturday at the team’s annual Fan Fest was a sign of things to come.

“I think for sure,” Chark said afterwards. “But I also think we got a ways to go. We can do so much more. Today was good to come out and play the way we did as an offense, but it’s time to go correct it and I really have big expectations for this team, definitely for this offense, and I want to do my best to live up to those.”

The Lions signed Chark to a one-year, $10 million deal this offseason to be the vertical threat the offense lacked in the passing game last fall.

On Saturday, Chark gave a tantalizing glimpse of his big-play ability, catching two touchdowns from quarterback Jared Goff, and beating the Lions secondary for another long catch downfield.

Chark had 77 yards on four catches playing against a mix of first- and second-string cornerbacks, and he and Goff struck a chemistry they’ve been working towards since March.

Chark joined Goff in California for at least two throwing sessions this offseason, and the two have spent time refining their connection occasionally after practices this summer.

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“I think it’s gelling,” Chark said. “The confidence in Jared, also building the confidence in (offensive coordinator Ben) Johnson, (head coach Dan) Campbell to call those plays. It’s still early in camp, we’re putting it together, just competing every day. Whenever the ball is intended for you, try to make a play.”

Chark showed flashes of great ability during his four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars despite playing in less-than-ideal conditions.

He had four offensive coordinators and seven starting quarterbacks in Jacksonville, but made one Pro Bowl appearance in 2019, when he caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards.

Chark missed most of last season with a broken ankle, but Johnson he has been “exactly what we saw on tape” so far in Detroit.

“He’s a long guy, he can run really, really well,” Johnson said. “He says something every day, ‘They didn’t ask me to do this in Jacksonville.’ But that’s what we want him to feel, cause once again we’ll kind of make that determination what he’s best at and then make sure he’s doing that for us on gameday.”

How Lions OC Ben Johnson is making the most of limited play-calling chances ]

Chark said the Lions have expanded his role far beyond how he was used in Jacksonville, when he worked primarily as the boundary receiver and the team’s top deep threat.

In Detroit, Chark lines up on both sides of the field and in every spot when multiple receivers are split to the same side.

“Just different concepts that they’re asking me to do that I just haven’t really done since like maybe like my second year in the league, I might have did a few of the things but just consistently throughout the years I haven’t been,” he said. “So there’s a lot of nuances in the playbook that’s allowing me to move around.”

Johnson said Chark is “knocking the rust off” from ankle surgery last October, and the Lions view him as having even more to offer than he has shown so far.

Chark said he appreciates the trust the Lions have shown, and as the team’s No. 1 free agent addition of the offseason, he is ready to prove their investment wise.

“It says a lot. And I don’t take it for granted,” Chark said. “I’m out here with some guys that really work hard, that really make plays so whenever I get the opportunity I can’t let the standard of the room down. That’s just the mindset that I have when I come out here.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

Exhibit A: Falcons

Matchup: Lions (3-13-1 in 2021) vs. Atlanta (7-10 in 2021), exhibition opener.

Kickoff: 6 p.m. Friday; Ford Field, Detroit.

TV/radio: Fox; WXYT-FM (97.1).

For openers: Lions vs. Eagles, regular-season opener; 1 p.m. Sept. 11, Ford Field, Detroit; Fox.

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