Lions Notebook: Tight End Depth A Strength

The Lions are trying just about everything to improve their roster this offseason, and players on the fringe will do just about anything to make it. Case in point: Sean Conover, who has gone from defensive end to tight end to defensive end again. More notes inside ...

The Lions are trying just about everything to improve their roster this offseason, and players on the fringe will do just about anything to make it. Case in point: Sean Conover, who has gone from defensive end to tight end to defensive end again.

Coach Jim Schwartz knows Conover from Tennessee, where he was defensive coordinator the past eight years. Conover played defensive end for the Titans, appearing in six games in 2006 and five in '07.

But Conover also played tight end on the Titans' scout team. In college at Bucknell, Conover played tight end as a freshman, and then moved to the defensive line after the team introduced an option offense.

The Lions claimed the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Conover off waivers Feb. 28. Conover spent time last year on the Falcons' and Ravens' practice squads, and then ended up with the Jets.

"We wanted that big point-of-attack blocker," Schwartz said. "Well, after we did that with Sean, I said, 'Hey, let's look at you as a blocking tight end.' "

But then the Lions signed free agent Will Heller and drafted two tight ends: Brandon Pettigrew in the first round and Dan Gronkowski in the seventh.

Heller, 6-6, 270, is considered a blocking tight end. Pettigrew, 6-5, 263, is the complete package but known best for his in-line blocking. Gronkowski, 6-5, 255, is a tough, hard-working guy with long arms and big hands.

"All of a sudden, you look at our tight ends, and now we are a lot bigger," Schwartz said. "Guys are bigger and physical. Just in fairness to him, we wanted to give him a chance to be able compete."

So, after working at tight end for weeks, Conover went back to defensive end and didn't miss a beat.

"He jumped right into defensive practice," Schwartz said. "That's been going on a while now, and nobody's noticed, and that's a good thing. He's able to jump right in on defense."

Conover said playing tight end was interesting and a good experience, but it made sense to move back to what he considers his natural position.

"I'm happy," Conover said. "I'm happy to be back on defense. I love defense."

Now Conover has to win a roster spot. The players are conditioning this week and next. They have a minicamp June 22-24 before they're off until training camp opens in late July.

It's not going to be easy. The Lions have a lot of defensive ends: from veterans like Dewayne White, Jared DeVries and Eric Hicks, to recent early round draft picks like Cliff Avril and Ikaika-Alama Francis.

But Schwartz speaks highly of Conover.

"Sean's got a lot of ability," Schwartz said. "He's big. He fits our profile, and he's a really, really tough guy."

MORE:

  • The Lions are among the NFL teams who could put a sponsor's logo on practice jerseys.

    "We are exploring it and are currently in the preliminary stages with potential interested partners," Lions president Tom Lewand said. Several teams are exploring deals now that the NFL has permitted a new way of generating revenue in a struggling economy. The NFL is also allowing partnerships with state lotteries, and the Lions are exploring that as well.

  • Coach Jim Schwartz threw out the first pitch at a Tigers game -- despite a partially torn rotator cuff he suffered doing a fist-pump during a game last season. He wore a No. 6 jersey in honor of Al Kaline, whom he met before the game for the first time.
  • "He actually grew up maybe five miles from where I grew up," Schwartz, a Baltimore native, told the Detroit Free Press. "And I also worked all through high school maybe a block from his high school. So a lot of the guys that were his contemporaries, guys that he went to high school with, worked at a market I worked at."

    Schwartz was scheduled to wave the green flag at a NASCAR race in Brooklyn, Mich.

  • In his blog, defensive end Cliff Avril made a comment that could be construed as an indirect shot at former coach Rod Marinelli or defensive line coach Joe Cullen. Marinelli, who spent his entire career as a defensive line coach before the Lions hired him in January 2006, spent a lot of time with the Lions' defensive line while head coach. Marinelli prided himself on communication. Now Marinelli and Cullen have been replaced, and without mentioning Marinelli or Cullen, Avril praised new defensive line coach Bob Karmelowicz. "I definitely feel that Coach Karm, our new D line coach, brings a different philosophy," Avril wrote. "Coach Karm tells you the reasons behind why we do what we do in practice. Sometimes, coaches just tell you to do things but not why. I feel like this coach is better at communicating in that way."
  • The coaches are taking two weeks off in mid-June. The players are still conditioning. The Lions will hold a minicamp June 22-24, then take off until training camp opens in late July.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I partially tore my rotator cuff on Monday Night Football against the Colts doing one of these. It's a funny way to hurt yourself, fist-pumping." -- Lions coach Jim Schwartz, to the Detroit Free Press, on playing through pain as he threw out the first pitch at a Tigers game.


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