| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions get Christmas gifts; is win over Tom Brady in their stocking?
Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez hand out gifts for the Detroit Lions, and predict the game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
Evan Rothstein has lived a relatively obscure life the past nine years as an assistant to four different Detroit Lions coaches, working in the shadows to help prepare the team for games.
He was a special teams quality control assistant under Jim Schwartz, did special projects and offensive analysis under Jim Caldwell, and handled similar responsibilities on the defensive side of the ball under Matt Patricia.
On Saturday, with interim Lions head coach Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and three other assistants in quarantine because of COVID-19 protocols, Rothstein will take an amazing step to the forefront as the team’s defensive playcaller against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
As stunning as Rothstein’s appointment was on many levels — he has never been a full-time position coach in his career, working only briefly with the offensive line at SUNY Cortland in the spring of 2010 – Bevell said he was the most “natural” fit for the job.
Along with Undlin, defensive position coaches Bo Davis, Ty McKenzie and Steve Gregory are in quarantine.
“He’s probably our most knowledgeable — not probably, is our most knowledgeable in terms of our defense, what we’re doing really all the way across the board,” Bevell said. “He is very involved in game day already, so he’s been in tough situations on game day, helping with information and communication, so we felt like he has the most experience and will be able to get that done at a high level for us.”
Rothstein has not worked directly with a position group in recent years, but has had a hand in all aspects of the defense.
He helps identify opposing team tendencies, signals and trends, and helps incorporate that knowledge into the game plan. He holds meetings every week to disseminate that information to players. And on game days, he wears a headset in the coaches booth, where he helps with game management and operational duties.
“He has his meetings each week when we talk about tendencies, signals, cadences, just all the little nuances of the game that a lot of people might overlook,” Lions safety Duron Harmon said. “He’s that guy who’s pointing it out for us so that we can have a good tip or a good tendency that we can hold our hat on.”
Defensive end Romeo Okwara called Rothstein “one of those guys that kind of crunches all the numbers for us and gives us all those little tidbits that we need for the game.”
“He’s a really, really smart, smart coach and a coach with a lot of detail,” Okwara said.
Rothstein, who has never called a defensive game at any level, worked with Undlin on the Lions’ defensive gameplan this week, and Bevell said the two will spend time before kickoff “almost practice-calling a game.”
Harmon said he trusts Rothstein “to put us in the right defense and make the right calls so that we can go out there and play fast,” though he acknowledges doing that against Brady and the Bucs’ high-powered offense won’t be easy.
At 43, Brady has seen and beaten just about every defensive concept imaginable, and he’s surrounded in Tampa by a cast of weapons that includes dangerous receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, and likely future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski.
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“It’s like I say every week, don’t make it bigger than what it really is,” Harmon said. “Just go out there, if you’re prepared you’re going to be feeling comfortable and confident. If I know one thing, he’s preparing right now, getting ready, looking over the tape, seeing what he’s going to call in what situation, what down and distance. Just go out there with confidence. We have confidence in him and we need to make sure when we go out there and play he can have confidence in us.”
Bevell, who will cede offensive playcalling duties to quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan while he is in quarantine, said he expects Saturday to be an emotional experience for Rothstein. But it is one he’s ready for.
“I can take you back to when I first got my opportunity to call plays for the first time,” Bevell said. “First you’re super excited, then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, I’m calling plays in an NFL game. I haven’t done this before.’
“So the guys that’ll be doing it, Sean and Evan, they’ve prepared and they’ll prepare all the way up to the minute of the game. … I’m confident in what those guys know and how they’ll be able to handle the situation.”