Can Joseph Fauria be reliable tight end for Lions?

Joseph Fauria had only 18 catches last season, but seven of them went for touchdowns.

Tim Fuller

He’s a major red-zone threat — 6-foot-7 with legs that look more like stilts — and he’s a fan favorite for his dance moves during touchdown celebrations.

But can Joseph Fauria develop into a reliable tight end in all situations for the Detroit Lions?

Can he block? Can he run quality routes to get open anywhere on the field, not just down near the goal line where he can take advantage of his length?

In other words, is there enough substance to go with the style?

Fauria, who went undrafted last year coming out of UCLA, is determined to prove he’s more than just a specialist.

"The great John Wooden (former UCLA basketball coach) said, ‘If you’re not getting any better, you’re getting worse,’" Fauria said. "I’m trying to be a tight end that can be on the field all the time.

"It wasn’t a challenge that I accepted from the outside world. It was a challenge to myself. I was aware of it (his shortcomings). This is my job. I wanted to get better at that."

Fauria came to training camp four weeks ago determined to hold onto — and even expand — his role with the Lions even though the team drafted another tight end, Eric Ebron, with the tenth pick overall.

Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has been pleasantly surprised by the results.

"I’m really impressed with his blocking," Lombardi said of Fauria. "I knew what I was getting a little bit as a receiver. Maybe he’s even a little bit better than I anticipated as far as running routes.

"But it’s the blocking. A guy that tall, that kind of had a reputation of not being a blocker, but he’s really embraced it."

For the most part, Fauria didn’t contribute during his rookie year until the offense got inside the 20-yard line. He had only 18 catches for the season, but seven of them went for touchdowns.

Opponents simply couldn’t handle his height at that point, not with another tall threat, 6-5 Calvin Johnson, among others, on the field at the same time.

Making this transition toward a more complete player, however, seems to be just as satisfying for Fauria these days.

Asked what his points of emphasis were during the offseason, he said, "My weaknesses, per say, blocking, getting open in the open field, but also mastering what I am good at, which is the red zone. There has to be a different type of way that I can be viewed so I’m a threat everywhere."

Some wondered a year ago whether Fauria was a little too interested in being the popular dancer, craving for attention, as opposed to a grinding football player who was willing to sacrifice and do the little things to help his team.

It appears he could be a little of both in the end.  

"I’m more comfortable now so I know what’s going on," he said of entering his second year in the league. "I know what to expect. I know how to practice. I know how to be a pro.

"You can’t be too high on yourself. You have to be even-keel. If you do bad, you have to be even. If you do well, you have to be even. I’m going to keep going with the punches."

Fauria actually has been getting reps at times ahead of Ebron, even during last week’s so-called "dress rehearsal" for the regular season in the Lions’ third exhibition game.

I’m trying to be a tight end that can be on the field all the time.

Joseph Fauria

Fauria has three receptions for 12 yards in the preseason while Ebron, whose downfield skills are more like a receiver than a tight end, has five catches for 65 yards. Veteran Brandon Pettigrew, who is the top blocker among the team’s three tight ends, has no catches so far.

The statistics really aren’t that important at this point. What is important is that the Lions appear to have room for all three in their tight-end-friendly offense, which is good news for Fauria, who appeared to be the odd-man-out when Detroit re-signed Pettigrew as an unrestricted free agent and then drafted Ebron.

Together, the trio offers an interesting package with their contrasting styles. 

"I think we can all bring something different to the table," Fauria said. "I’m good friends with E (Ebron). He’s awesome.

"Him, myself and Brandon are going to be a force to be reckoned with. I don’t think they make them like us three in one tight end. I think it’s really dangerous. It’s going to be something to definitely look forward to this year."