Lions need Eric Ebron to turn potential to production in 2016

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions open training camp on July 28 in Allen Park, Michigan, and like every team in the NFL, there are questions.

While we won’t know the answers to whether the Lions will be contenders or not until the end of September at the earliest, the roster as it is constructed now could give some clues. And that’s how we’ll view the Lions as we preview them by position for training camp, continuing on Thursday with tight ends.

What the Lions have: Eric Ebron (starter), Brandon Pettigrew, Matthew Mulligan, Cole Wick, Adam Fuehne, Ben McCord, Orson Charles, Timothy Wright (injured reserve)

What they might still need: As long as Pettigrew is able to come back at some point during camp, the Lions might be set here unless a surprising vet becomes available.

Likely roster spots: 3

What to expect in camp: Ebron’s spot is locked in. The Lions need to see where Pettigrew is coming off ACL surgery, and if he’s in good shape he’ll be in good shape. The real question is what the Lions do with the likely No. 3 tight end spot. Wick was the surprise of the undrafted free agents and might be the most likely UDFA to make the 53-man roster. He’ll have to hold off Mulligan and possibly Charles, a veteran signed after a three-day minicamp tryout.

Reason to believe: Ebron has been criticized a lot – both here and in other spaces – but he has shown improvement from his rookie year to his second season and should have every opportunity to make a bigger leap in his third season. General manager Bob Quinn said he believes you typically know what a tight end has by his third season, so this is a big one for Ebron. If Ebron takes that leap, he could be a top 10 tight end in the league. Wick has looked promising without pads.

Be concerned because: If Ebron’s inconsistency continues, it could be a long year for Detroit because it means Matthews Stafford can’t rely on the biggest mismatch he has. If Pettigrew can’t return to form, the Lions have to rely on a different blocker – likely meaning both Mulligan and Wick make the roster.