The atmosphere was charged at the Detroit Lions’ third day of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Head coach Dan Campbell addressed the media, laying bare his thoughts and plans for the upcoming season. Campbell, known for his candidness and unique coaching style, emphasized the importance of these sessions as a time to develop team chemistry, learn about each other, and understand how the Lions operate. He’s looking beyond the physical aspect and focusing primarily on the mental element of the game.
In Campbell’s opening remarks, he stated, “we’ve got new players and there’s a new chemistry that we’ve got to develop with each other… we’ve got to start over again, and that’s what this spring is about.” As they navigate this rebuilding phase, Campbell stresses that the objective of OTAs isn’t necessarily to lock down starting positions but to prepare players to compete for those roles later.
The tone Campbell set was clear – this is a fresh start, a reset for the Lions. This is an exciting time for the team, one in which they are laying the foundations to build something great.
Harnessing the Power of Veteran Pieces and Depth
As we’ve seen time and again in football, experience counts. The Lions have put this philosophy into action, bringing in several highly sought-after veteran players who have already carved out crucial roles within the team. Coach Campbell has been vocal about the importance of this dynamic shift, noting how it’s lifting the level of competition within the team.
“We’ve got new players and there’s a new chemistry that we’ve got to develop,” he said. The challenge now lies in how the team leverages the strengths of the established roster while integrating these new additions. Campbell is firm in his stance: “They have to earn it. (Lions T Penei) Sewell earned it, (Lions DL Aidan Hutchinson) Hutch earned it and (Lions RB Jahmyr) Gibbs has got to earn his right.”
In essence, the Lions are not just building a team; they’re crafting an arsenal. With depth in different packages and the versatility to adapt to varying game scenarios, Coach Campbell believes the Lions are in a prime position to create exciting plays and press the advantage, particularly when it comes to using offensive and defensive coordinators Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn’s unique skill sets.
In response to maintaining continuity while integrating new players, Campbell said, “Look, I can go back to this too – just because there’s a reason why you acquire these guys early in the Draft…they have to earn it…But I think across the board, if you’re (Lions Offensive Coordinator) Ben (Johnson) or (Lions Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn) AG, man you have some pieces now in that room.”
Campbell’s excitement is palpable when he discusses the different configurations possible for the team, “You add a tight end and now we can live in 13-personnel more. You got Gibbs, he comes along with (Lions RB David) Montgomery, you’re going to see more two back with two H’s.” Campbell’s vision of a flexible, dynamic team is slowly taking shape, with the potential to keep opponents on their toes.
“Everything is About the Work”
Campbell’s emphasis on hard work and mental strength is unwavering. Although the team has several primetime games this season – a fact that was met with excitement in the locker room – Campbell insists that the team remains focused on their efforts and not the hype. He commented, “Right now everything is about the work. Let’s worry about what’s in front of us, what’s in this locker room, and not worry about everything on the outside, and we always have to keep that in focus.”
“Fostering Individual Growth”
In his press conference, Campbell also highlighted a few players. He expressed optimism about rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, despite the difficulty of producing at the tight end role early in a career, noting, ” I always make this argument, besides the quarterback, the tight ends have to know more than anybody else offensively. You’ve got to know it all… It’s one of the reasons why we drafted LaPorta because we think he can handle a lot. We think he’s got versatility. Physically, he can do a little bit of everything, but also mentally, he’s pretty sharp for a rookie.”
On the other hand, he’s also pleased with the progress of second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams, stating that his route running had shown “a ton of progress… those things are pretty impressive because when you can use your speed not just to take the top off but to put fear in the defense.” He further emphasized that while Williams has room to grow, the coaching staff is committed to “sharpen every little thing with him.”
Lastly, Campbell expressed high praise for veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone, who re-signed with the Lions this offseason on a three-year deal. In the context of fierce competition within the linebacker room, Campbell confirmed, “Alex can play MIKE and WILL…Let’s go (Detroit Lions LB Derrick) Barnes. Let’s go (Detroit Lions LB Jack) Campbell, let’s go (Detroit Lions LB Malcolm) Rodriguez.” It’s clear the competition for positions will be stiff, and each player must earn their spot on the depth chart.
Sizing up the Veterans
As for the veterans, Campbell lauded the performance of offensive tackle Penei Sewell and defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson. “Sewell is coming off a strong rookie season, and we’re looking forward to what he’ll bring to the table this year. He’s an absolute rock on that line,” he said. Regarding Hutchinson, Campbell described him as “a force to be reckoned with on defense. His energy is infectious, and his relentless pursuit of the quarterback sets the tone for our defense.”
Last but not least, Campbell touched on the team’s quarterback situation. “Jared (Goff) has shown great leadership and poise in these early stages of preparation,” Campbell said. “He understands the system, is making the right reads, and has been a great mentor for our younger guys. We’re excited to see what he’ll do this season.”
In the Limelight: Embracing the Primetime
The Lions have found themselves in the spotlight with a notable increase in primetime games in their schedule. And while Campbell confessed that he “still wishes all primetime games were at 1:00 pm,” he acknowledged the team’s excitement about showcasing their hard work on a larger stage. “Let’s put the work in and then we get to showcase all of this work we put in on primetime,” he said.
The thrill of the limelight, however, comes with its own perils. As the stakes rise, Campbell remains wary of the hype seeping into the locker room and affecting the team’s focus. “Let’s worry about what’s in front of us, what’s in this locker room, and not worry about everything on the outside,” he advised. He holds a firm belief in building a new team from the ground up, seeing the upcoming season as an exciting challenge, an opportunity to prove how far the Lions have come.
‘Let the Lion roar’
The Lions are only at the beginning of their journey. The preseason offers a valuable opportunity to test the waters, experiment with lineups, and fine-tune strategies. However, the real challenge lies in the regular-season schedule that awaits.
Campbell’s vision is clear – to build a team that isn’t just competitive but also resilient and capable of adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the NFL. “We’re not going to shy away from the work that needs to be done,” he said. “Our focus is on continuous improvement, not just week by week, but play by play.”
The road ahead is long, and the competition will be tough. But Coach Campbell and the Detroit Lions are ready for the challenge. With their unique blend of youth and experience, a dynamic strategy, and a determined mindset, this team is set to take on the NFL. Only time will tell how far they’ll go, but one thing’s for sure – they’re not going down without a fight.
“Let the lion roar,” Campbell concluded. And so, with an air of determination and promise, the Lions look forward to carving out a new identity in the NFL.
And perhaps, come the 2023 season, we will indeed hear the lion’s roar echoing louder than ever.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Photo Credit: © Noah Wulbrecht, Woodward Sports Network