“It’s moreso fun than stressful now,” Roberts said after last week’s open OTA practice.
That might be the most simple yet accurate way to describe the jump a player takes from their rookie campaign to second season.
“I feel very comfortable, actually,” Roberts said. “My mind isn’t racing or swimming.”
The toughest part of the NFL offseason for most first-year players is when they join the veterans for OTAs. There are only 10 OTAs and a three-day minicamp allowed by the NFL in Phase III of the offseason program. The pace is fast, and the information comes at players in waves. The physical and mental aspect of this phase is a tough transition for most first-year players. We often hear players talking about playing faster with the more experience they get. It’s because their brain isn’t getting in the way.
Count Roberts among that group of rookies last year that were just trying to stay afloat this time of year.
The tight end position is one of the tougher ones in this league to learn because it’s essentially learning three positions, plus all the passing concepts, run-game elements and all the protections. It might be the second hardest position to learn on offense next to quarterback. For first-year players, it’s an extremely difficult position to completely grasp. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t typically see a lot of rookie tight ends light the league on fire.
“You’re just swimming in information,” Roberts said of his rookie season. “You’re trying to put it all together. Take it from the board to the field and I’d say that’s the biggest stressful part.”
With a year now under his belt in Jim Bob Cooter’s system, the game has slowed down for Roberts. He feels more prepared to show off the tools that made the Lions select him in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
“He’s very athletic, working hard, really focused in, I’m excited for him,” teammate
New tight ends coach Chris White is also pretty high on Roberts’ potential in his second season.
“What I see is a lot of growth,” White said. “A lot more knowledge and comfort with just being here and being with (Matthew) Stafford and the offense.
“I think the thing that sticks out to me the most is his flexibility for a big guy. Some of these guys that are 6-5 and tall can’t really bend as well and he’s got really unique lower body flexibility and strength.”
Roberts is coming off a rookie campaign that saw him play in 15 games with three starts, where he was used primarily as a blocker. He caught just four passes on the season for 46 yards, but earned an overall positive grade from Pro Football Focus. He was on the plus side of the grading as both a run and pass blocker.
He didn’t play in Detroit’s Week 17 win over Green Bay as he was suspended for violating team rules.
Roberts said after the season he used that experience as a learning moment, and he’s excited about the opportunities in front of him at a position that is still looking for someone to emerge as a go-to player.
“I’m hungry this year,” he said. “It’s time to really take it up a notch.”