Allen Park — The benefits of having former players as coaches has been well-documented during Dan Campbell’s tenure.
But another example showed itself at the end of mandatory minicamp, when wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El was asked about how Amon-Ra St. Brown has vocalized that he wants to be a bigger downfield threat than the Lions have let him be so far.
“I love it,” said Randle El, who won a Super Bowl as a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “That’s the nature of the wide receiver. ‘Give me that ball.’ To this point, that’s good.”
Over the course of NFL history, that has not always been perceived as “good.” Such disputes often dominate headlines, like the one going on between the Buffalo Bills and star receiver Stefon Diggs.
The difference here is that St. Brown isn’t simply asking for more; he just wants a chance to take the next step as a player. After displaying massive improvement over the first two seasons of his career, Randle El recognizes this but still sees the benefit to improving on the things that have become St. Brown’s calling cards.
Sure, the lack of deep-ball catches may prevent St. Brown from being mentioned among the NFL’s best on a national level. But the effectiveness of his short-area route running has proven to be a nightmare for defenses, and so often, he’s been the safety valve for Jared Goff — and thus, the entire offense.
“He got so much better last year. You saw that jump. So now it’s, ‘All right, I kind of got it down. How can I perfect it over and over again, as it relates to where I need to be? When I need to be there?’” Randle El said. “That’s working back and forth with Goff, knowing the coverages and seeing it. That’s one of the things we talk about, in terms of him working on (things).
“And then, another big thing, he can get in and out of cuts so easily. He doesn’t have to do all that extra stuff, because he can get out of it so fast. So I just go, ‘Run that route smooth. You don’t need anything extra on the top of it. Just bap bap, come on out of it.’
“He’s been doing that in OTAs, so that’s been a growth for him. No extra movement — just get in the route and come out of it.”
While there may be some anticipation to see if St. Brown gets the deep ball thrown to him next season, there will be no such curiosity about Marvin Jones Jr., who is back in Detroit on a one-year deal after two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“He’s the guy that makes the big-boy catches, so to speak,” Randle El said.
Jones, 33, saw his production take a dip in 2022. While it’s a bit fair to wonder how much he’ll have left in the tank once the games start, the coaching staff seems to be optimistic about what his skill set will do for the Lions this season.
“He can do the dirty stuff in the trenches. He’s a red-zone guy, for sure,” Randle El said. “So that’s where I see him, making those dirty, grimy catches that will help us out. We’ve got a couple guys that can do it, but he’s one of those guys who can for sure show up and make those plays for us.”