ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has some more toys this year. He’s just trying to figure out what will be the best way and the best time to use each one.
The Lions, in need of weapons for their quarterback, signed a top free-agent receiver in Golden Tate, drafted a hybrid tight end/receiver in Eric Ebron with the 10th pick overall and they’re also taking a closer look at return specialist Jeremy Ross in the offense.
"I think that’s one of the fun parts of this year, kind of imagining down the road what guys’ roles are going to be in this offense," Stafford said Wednesday following the second day of the team’s mandatory mini-camp. "Guys kind of go out there and play, and then you build roles for them.
"We’re excited. We’ve just got to find everybody’s niche and do the best we can with it."
Stafford expects Tate, who has missed practice this week because of a shoulder injury, to be a valuable addition as another receiver who can make big plays at big moments to complement Calvin Johnson.
It’s not quite as clear yet how Ebron, who made 62 receptions for 973 yards and three touchdowns in his final year at North Carolina, is going to fit in with the Lions, at least early on in the season.
"Ebron’s a young guy who’s super athletic and gets in and out of cuts, but he’s raw," Stafford said. "He’s young. He’s got to learn the NFL game, like every rookie does. But there’s definitely flashes of big-time talent."
Ross, meanwhile, is getting a chance to prove he deserves a larger role in the offense, and not just on special teams.
He caught just five passes for 59 yards and one touchdown last year with Detroit.
"We didn’t have a whole lot of time to work him into the system last year, just kind of sign-and-play kind of thing," Stafford said of Ross, who was added to the practice squad in early October after getting released by Green Bay and then promoted to the 53-man roster 11 days later.
"He’s done a great job for us. Obviouisly, he’s a talented returner, but has gotten a little bit more burn (playing time) with the one’s (first-team offense) with Golden being down some and guys missing a day or two. He’s been out there playing really well for us."
Stafford, entering his sixth year in the NFL, has to learn a new system this offseason following the Lions’ coaching change.
The offense includes elements of what the New Orleans Saints have been doing in recent years with Drew Brees at quarterback.
Joe Lombardi, who was the Saints’ quarterbacks coach, is now the Lions’ offensive coordinator.
Asked to identify the most difficult part of the process in learning the new system, Stafford said, "For some of those guys, I think just getting lined up (with) new formations, motions, shifts, all that kind of stuff."
And for Stafford?
He smiled when he said, "I line up in the same spot every time pretty much. So it’s not tough for me."
Stafford then added: "For me, you’ve just got to know it all, in and out. You’ve got to know every little nuance there is to know. That’s what I’m working on as diligently as I possibly can at this point."