Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell kicks off his tenure with a couple of questionable calls

Detroit Free Press

Ah, rookie coaches. You’ve got to love ’em, right?

No, seriously. I’m asking. Do we have to love them?

Of course we do. Because if you don’t love them and their new way of doing things, then what hope is there?

I don’t want to dash anyone’s hopes here. But I do feel it’s my responsibility as a longtime Detroit Lions observer and a connoisseur of Honolulu Blue and Silver coaching chaos to weigh in on the start of Dan Campbell’s tenure — his first time actually coaching on the field — which kicked off with a three-day rookie minicamp that ended Sunday.

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Let me preface this by saying I enjoy Campbell’s enthusiasm and his zeal for the job. He seems to bring a lot energy and vigor to the position.

But there were a couple of questionable decisions and borderline mistakes Campbell made. The first was to not have a quarterback on the field. The Lions didn’t draft a quarterback or sign an undrafted free-agent quarterback, which meant they would have had to use one of their five spots available for tryout players on a quarterback.

“Obviously, we like the three quarterbacks we have on our roster right now,” Campbell said. “We feel like we’re in a good spot there. With that, why waste one of those spots on somebody that we knew wasn’t going to be here? We would rather use one of those spots and let’s bring in a tight end, let’s bring in a defensive back, let’s bring in a corner. Let’s get eyes on somebody we think can make this roster.”

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Really? No rookie quarterback was worth a look-see as a tryout player? After all, it’s not like the Lions’ quarterback situation is rock solid. Jared Goff is coming off thumb surgery and trying to jump-start the second half of his career. Tim Boyle has attempted four passes in the NFL. And David Blough is 0-5 as a starter with four touchdowns and six interceptions. The Packers, who certainly have their own concerns at the position, signed two tryout quarterbacks for their rookie minicamp.

The Lions did sign two of those five tryout players after Sunday’s workout, tight end Charlie Taumoepeau and safety Alijah Holder.

Campbell figured he could use a coach to throw passes because he didn’t plan to run a traditional practice. So the Lions used some coaches as quarterbacks but mostly relied on Tanner Engstrand, a quality control coach who was a backup quarterback for San Diego State in 2003-04.

Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, I wasn’t allowed to attend practice. By most accounts, Engstrand threw the ball well and because of roster restrictions other coaches also were pressed into positional duty.

But quarterback is a unique position, and there’s a difference between a middle-aged coach and a young, NFL-caliber quarterback. I don’t know how fair it is to force rookie receivers who are trying to make the team catch passes from a coach. Would you want to be that receiver? It’s also really not fair to Engstrand, who’s trying to be a coach and instead has to play quarterback.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, a fourth-round pick from Southern Cal who’s motivated to show NFL teams how wrong they were to pass him over so many times, gave a political but honest answer about catching passes from a coach.

“I would say in my 15 years of playing football the last time I had a coach throw to me in a competitive atmosphere was probably in Pop Warner,” he said. “So to have a coach throwing the ball was definitely something different. But he could throw it around a bit, so it wasn’t too bad. But like I said, we didn’t do too much competition, so it was fine for the most part.”

How’s that for a motto? “Lions football: Fine for the most part.”

The Lions can add a quarterback at any time — let’s not forget the dizzying carousel of 11 QBs in 2019. I get what Campbell’s saying about keeping an eye out for players with a realistic chance to make the roster. But it doesn’t hurt to spend a tryout spot on a player at the most important position in order to avoid creating an unnecessary challenge for pass-catchers.

My other concern about Campbell was his admitted tardiness that cost him a chance to schedule joint practices with another team, which has been popular in the NFL recently.

“… I actually did reach out to some coaches and I’ll be honest with you, I got in on it a little bit late,” he said. “So a number of the coaches that I called had already had things set up. So we struck out on that. I think it’ll probably be just us. We’ll be competing against each other for those four weeks of camp.”

I almost felt sorry for Campbell here, who seems like the kid who shows up for the first day of class and is the only who didn’t know there was a summer reading assignment. “The Catcher in the Rye?” Um, no I didn’t read it, but I did play some Wiffleball in my backyard.

I appreciate Campbell’s honesty on this matter, though, and I’m sure he has learned something about the timing of scheduling joint practices.

But hey, this is all part of being a rookie full-time head coach in the NFL. Sometimes you make the right call, sometimes you forget to call an opposing coach and sometimes you don’t call any quarterbacks at all.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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