ALLEN PARK — Detroit Lions wide receiver Quintez Cephus was one of the stars of the team’s offseason program. To do contested one-handed grabs in the end zone to get on and get the ball back, it was hard to miss the third-year game.
Cephus was near the top of the depth chart before his season-ending injury in Week 5. He started three games and had 15 catches on 22 targets for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Now, thanks to an impressive addition on the outside, he’s likely in a close battle with Trinity Benson and company in the back of the team’s reception hall. The Lions return rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, vertical threat Josh Reynolds and the fast and versatile Kalif Raymond. They added a potential downfield option in DJ Chark in free agency, with the electric Jameson Williams at Pick 12 in the draft.
“The room is much more competitive. And that’s what you want. You want your room to be competitive,” Lions wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El said. “That’s one of the things I talked about in the offseason that I probably wouldn’t must have had. But competitiveness is definitely what you want. Because, hey, it’s a bone — let’s get it. Who’s going to come out on top. And not just going up and catching the ball, but who gets the good ones. blocks and runs the correct routes to free another open guy.All of this stuff is tied together.
Benson brings desirable speed, while Cephus offers a unique combination of strength, size, and leaps. Randle El said Cephus is one of those players who looks different when the pads are both in size and ability.
“His spring this year is better than last year. But he’s also a guy who, when the pads come in, he’s a little bit different,” Randle El said. “Which means he shows up a lot more. He’s just different with his pads. He’s a bigger, more physical guy, so it’s good to see him again…again. We have guys who are productive over and over again. Guys come up and play games. So there is no stall, so to speak, when looking at who we have.
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Lions head coach Dan Campbell was asked what Benson’s special skills were and he replied “speed. speed, speed, speed.
Campbell was pressed about some of the nonsensical plays Cephus was doing at minicamp and made sure to mention Benson’s name after he praised the former. The second-year head coach also said Benson came to him after the season for advice on what he needed to do to improve, saying it all depends on the new playbook and verbiage. And it looks like the wide receiver should take a look at special teams, which doesn’t hurt his chances of making the roster.
“Like that’s (his speed) what really shows and you didn’t always feel it because he was pushing his way through that, and he wasn’t really confident about ‘What’s what should I do here? What’s the look? Should I lean on him? Should I break in? Campbell said of Benson. “And then the quarterback is waiting for him. There’s just this rapport that goes with it, and so I think his confidence is up and you’re really – the speed really shows, and his hands have been – he catches the ball well, he feathers it. So, I think that’s his main skill set, and look, he’s pretty tough. It’s quite tough. I think he can help us in the special teams.
“I think he can be a shooter, and so if we can feel that speed, and he keeps getting the ball and doing what he did in the spring, then he comes out and competes with a shooter in special teams, I think serves him well, serves us well.
Raymond is back on a two-year contract. And it looks like he’ll see a more niche role as one of the team’s top vertical threats at 5-foot-8, 182 pounds. He returned punts last season, with 236 yards on 21 attempts. Looks like he’ll see more action there.
To his credit, however, Raymond had the most productive season of his career with his bigger role. He caught 48 passes for 576 yards and four touchdowns. Not too shabby for someone who entered 2021 with a combined 20 takes in his previous four seasons. Campbell called him one of the toughest pound-for-pound players on the team, playing like he was 220 pounds.
“It’s kind of like what we told him last year when he was a free agent and we told him he could be a role player for us offensively and he was our first kick returner. clearance,” Campbell said. “We know we can gimmick him and put him in the Z if we need him right now to pick up a charge. We know we can put him at F if we need him to play a load of the slot machine. So it brings a ton of versatility and really confidence, reliability. Like, we know exactly who he is, what he’s going to be for us, and what he can do.
It will be interesting to see how many receivers the Lions take in the regular season, with Williams’ status up in the air. Campbell said he doesn’t expect the prized rookie receiver to be ready for the start of training camp, which doesn’t bode well for the start of the campaign.
It could mean an opportunity for players like Cephus and Benson, and it’s easy to see Raymond playing even more of a role if Williams misses games. The Lions also have Kalil Pimpleton, Corey Sutton, Josh Johnson and Tom Kennedy battling for spots. Pimpleton is an undrafted speed demon from Central Michigan University. Kennedy has been between the practice squad and the roster for the past three seasons, catching six balls for 54 yards in 2021.
“The expectation doesn’t change,” Randle El said. “Let me just say that. I don’t care who I have in this room. I expect that whatever your effort, your talent, I must try to bring it out of you. The expectation therefore does not change.
“Now we have to blow it off the roof and keep making those plays and delivering those expectations week in and week out. It’s not about doing it in weeks 1 and 2 and not being able to do it in weeks 3 and 4. It’s about doing it week after week.