There has been one unfamiliar face making a name for himself at Detroit Lions OTAs. A 6-foot-6, 254-pound tight end from University of the Incarnate Word, has firmly entrenched himself as a darkhorse favorite.
Cole Wick went undrafted this year after coming out of a small D-II Catholic school in San Antonio. According to multiple reports, he has been receiving a fair share of first string snaps and has drawn the praise of many teammates. You shouldn’t read too much into his starter status, as it is only temporary and due to injuries, but he has made the best of his opportunities.
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Fellow tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (recovering from a 2015 ACL tear), Tim Wright (sustained a recent ACL injury and subsequently waived), and Eric Ebron (battling a minor ailment) are all sidelined/limited. That leaves the newcomer Wick and strictly blocking tight end Matthew Mulligan competing for positioning on the roster. Former Central Michigan tight end Ben McCord and another 2016 UDFA Adam Fuehne are also healthy but are considered to be just camp bodies.
Head coach Jim Caldwell took his typical level-headed approach when asked about the rookie:
“He’s learning. He’s getting better, and he does have some pretty distinct qualities that he’s been able to look pretty good out here — without any pads on. You got to wait until the pads come on. So we’ll see,” said Caldwell.
There were multiple examples–including a 25-yard pass from QB Matthew Stafford over LB Tahir Whitehead— of Wick’s strong hands and the ability to catch in traffic at OTAs. Much like other bigger tight ends, Wick does not possess the speed or quickness to create a ton of separation.
Let’s not let the hype train run wild with this one. Coach Caldwell again makes a good point regarding padless practices.
“When a guy is catching the ball and he’s running through the middle and he knows he’s not going to get hit, he acts a little bit differently,” Caldwell added. “When the leather starts flying a little bit then you kind of get a little better picture of what you really have.”
If Wick can contribute in the blocking game, he could create a strong case for that third tight end spot which had prematurely been handed to Mulligan by most. This will be where Wick’s money is made. His catching aptitude is just an added bonus.
Pettigrew, who is considered second string, is also not a shoe-in to be available for the start of the season. With potentially two open roster slots behind Ebron, Wick should have no problem securing a place on the roster if he continues his upward trend.
One of Wick’s biggest fans and supporters has been none other than Eric Ebron. After Wick came down with a beautiful contested catch over the middle, Ebron could not hold in his excitement and rushed the field to congratulate the rookie.
“It’s fun watching someone else grow up, you know?” Ebron said. “It’s my third year, so watching a rookie come in and play your position is fun to watch him grow up into who he is now. Maybe two weeks ago, he wouldn’t have made that catch.
“Build his confidence, and now he’s out here making plays.”
Every year the offseason hype of unproven players reach unreal levels, this could be another example, but it could also be the next Cinderella story. As Lions fans, we can only hope it’s the latter.