ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Nate Burleson joined the Detroit Lions in 2010 to play alongside star Calvin Johnson.
Then, the Lions drafted wide receivers each of the next two years.
“It just means that I’ve got to perform,” Burleson said. “I come out to practice and show what I can do, and leave the rest up to the organization.”
The Lions haven’t been shy about adding targets for quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for 5,038 yards last season. Johnson remains the focal point, and the team secured his services for the foreseeable future in March when he signed an eight-year contract. But Detroit also drafted Titus Young in the second round out of Boise State in 2011, and this year the Lions picked Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles in that same round.
“At some point, these guys are going to be the ones that fill in,” Burleson said. “Until that day comes, I’m going to keep grinding and keep showing that I’m the best complement to Calvin there is.”
Burleson signed a $25 million, five-year deal in 2010, and he is definitely in the team’s plans this season. Young has potential, but he also had a confrontation with a teammate and got himself dismissed from team workouts during the offseason. Broyles was a star in college but tore a ligament in his left knee as a senior at Oklahoma.
With tight end Brandon Pettigrew also in the fold, the Lions (tied for 11th in the AP Pro32) don’t need Young and Broyles to become standouts right away, but if they do, the offense could go from explosive to downright frightening.
“My job is to push these guys,” Burleson said. “Mold them into the best receivers they can possibly be at this point in their careers.”
Burleson, who is entering his 10th season in the league, caught 73 passes for 757 yards last season. Young had 48 catches for 607 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie.
Broyles finished his college career with 349 catches for 4,586 yards and 45 touchdowns, along with 1,194 yards and two more scores on punt returns. He’s back from his injury and has a couple catches this preseason, although he admits his speed isn’t yet what it could be.
“That’s something I have to work on,” Broyles said. “I’m not back to my OU days.”
The chatty Burleson seems like almost an ideal mentor for younger receivers, and then there’s Johnson, who might be the best in the NFL at his position. Johnson caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. His presence alone takes some of the pressure off everyone else in the offense.
“It’s a good deal to come to this situation and prepare myself to play as well as I can,” Broyles said. “First off, I’ve got to get on the field as much as possible.”
Detroit’s running game is a major question mark heading into the season, especially with running back Jahvid Best still unable to play because of concussion problems. Stafford attempted 663 passes last season, the most by anyone in the league.
“That’s the good thing about this offense. This isn’t a stingy offense, where one guy is going to shine and the rest of the guys have got to find a new team next year,” Burleson said. “As long as you catch the balls thrown to you, you’re going to be a Lion for a long time.”
If the younger receivers mature and everyone stays healthy, Detroit could have an even more potent passing game, with several legitimate threats on the field at the same time. That’s what Burleson is hoping for, and he figures he’ll have an important role no matter what.
“The good thing about myself is, I like to play outside, inside, come out of the backfield, motion, do whatever you need me to do,” Burleson said. “The versatility, and being able to still be a deep threat, is what keeps me around.”
Notes: S Don Carey and TE Nathan Overbay were waived-injured.