Eric Beverly is back in Detroit. He started his NFL career on the Lions' practice squad in 1997 and ended up starting 41 games for them over the next six years at center and guard. Now, after a stint in Atlanta, he is a blocking tight end.
The Lions finished last in the league in rushing last season, and they wanted to bolster their blocking ability. Coach Rod Marinelli faced Beverly twice a season when he was Tampa Bay's defensive line coach and Beverly played for Atlanta. He said Beverly was a force at the point of attack -- and a good guy, too.
"He's a guy who's a classy veteran," coach Rod Marinelli said. "When we were bringing him in to have a chance to visit with him, this whole building, everybody who was here when he was here before, said, 'Wow. What a great person. You're going to love this guy.' "
Beverly has caught only one NFL pass. And it was for zero yards. And it wasn't even on an offensive play. In the third quarter of last season's finale at Philadelphia, the Falcons botched the snap on a field-goal attempt. Quarterback Matt Schaub was the holder. He got the ball to Beverly back at the line of scrimmage -- and Beverly got nailed, he estimates, by five guys.
"Yeah, I remember," Beverly said. "It wasn't memorable, though."
But you never know. Beverly might get a chance to catch some passes. Dan Campbell came to Detroit last year with modest career numbers and the label of blocking tight end, and running back Kevin Jones was not known for his pass-catching ability. Both made plays as receivers in Mike Martz's offense.
"Eric is a very gifted athlete," Martz said. "He just hasn't been put into a position to catch the ball. Same thing with Kevin Jones, remember? Same kind of deal. These guys are athletic and have good hand-eye coordination."
Which will be a definite prerequisite for the demands of Detroit's "tight end" position.
"It's the most complicated position that we have, and it takes a special guy," Martz said. "It means he has to be able to line up as a fullback in that formation, line up as a tight end in a nickel and line up as a 'move guy' with two tight ends. So he's got to do everything."
Veteran Marcus Pollard played the position last season but didn't really fit the system. Now Pollard is in Seattle, and reserves Casey FitzSimmons and Sean McHugh are competing for playing time.
Beverly showed the necessary athleticism on one play during the mandatory minicamp. He ran his route, caught the ball over the middle and took off downfield.
"I'm versatile," he said, laughing. "You know, honestly, I feel comfortable blocking. I've been doing that all my life. Even when I was a tight end in college, I was more of a blocker.
"I try not to set limitations on myself. Am I going to catch 100 balls or something? No. Probably not. Will I try to? Probably not."