Allen Park — For the first time since their hires this offseason, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell held a joint press conference Thursday afternoon, fielding questions about the team’s recent roster moves heading into regular season.
Given the number of topics addressed in the 32-minute session, we thought it would be best to serve the information up in bite-sized, bullet points.
► Following the preseason finale, Campbell anticipated the roster cut conversation with Holmes would go smoothly, outside of a couple of players where the coach joked they might need to arm wrestle to settle their difference of opinion.
In hindsight, Campbell’s assessment proved accurate, at least according to Holmes.
“We’re cut from the same cloth and we see things eye-to-eye,” Holmes said. “It actually was a very seamless process. It was a smooth process. I mean, we might have had some longer discussions on two guys, two to three guys, maybe. But again, I don’t view like disagreement as a negative. I always viewed it as a learning experience to get better.”
Campbell said the two work well together because they attempt to see the discussion through each others’ lenses. Campbell said he focuses on doing a better job considering the long-term impact of decisions, while Holmes understands the short-term goals Campbell has trying fielding the best possible team each week.
“I think that goes a long way and not everybody does that,” Campbell said. “We try to keep the ego out of this, which we’ve done. Man, that’s how you get results. That’s how you get results. It’s been awesome, it really has.”
► Asked about the strengths of his roster, Holmes highlighted three position groups. On offense, he still likes the potential of the team’s offensive line, along with a running group he feels better about than he did at the start of camp, thanks to the development of rookie Jermar Jefferson.
“Obviously we all well know (D’Andre) Swift and Jamaal (Williams) and what they bring, But we drafted Jermar, he’s a seventh-round pick and a rookie that we felt really, really good about in the process,” Holmes said. “I think any late-round guy or undrafted guy is gonna have a hell of a chance with the coaching that they’re gonna be receiving from (running backs coach) Duce Staley and (offensive coordinator) Anthony Lynn, but you don’t know for sure, for sure. Jermar has improved every single week to the point where it’s like, ‘Ok, the pass protection got better, (knowing) what he’s supposed to do got better, he’s got natural vision, but to actually see it come to life in practices and those games makes you feel really good and better about the position.”
Defensively, Holmes is excited about the defensive front the team has built in the offseason. He praised the rapid development of Alim McNeill for helping solidify the group, while also highlighting how Romeo Okwara, who led the team with 10 sacks in 2020, also has been better than expected.
“Romeo is even better after we paid him, and we felt good about him when we paid him,” Holmes said, referencing the three-year deal Okwara signed this offseason. “Now it’s like, ‘Wow.'”
As for the depth pieces up front, former first-round pick Charles Harris has caught the general manager’s eye.
“Watching him practice today, he’s gotten better, and I’m not sure if it’s the scheme, but I do think it’s the coaching staff,” Holmes said.
Holmes was far less interested in talking about the roster’s weaknesses, only saying, “We’ll see Week 1.”
►Since initially trimming the roster to 53, the Lions have added two players, kicker Austin Seibert and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge, both via waiver claim.
The Lions had the option of several, established veteran kickers, as well as a couple other young names, but settled on Seibert, a fifth-round draft pick in 2019, who already has spent time with two other teams.
Holmes said he liked the “pop” in Seibert’s leg, as well as his consistency. In 21 games, the kicker has made 81.6% of his field-goal attempts.
With Hodge, Holmes had familiarity with the receiver, who signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent while Holmes was working as the team’s college scouting director.
“It was good to (get) him back,” Holmes said. “He can play outside, he can play inside, he can run, he’s got length, he’s got speed and he’s another body that, when you get into the depth of the wide receiver room, he can contribute on special teams. He’s been a good special-teams contributor.”
► Detroit added another wide receiver this week, sending a pair of late-round draft picks to the Denver Broncos in exchange for Trinity Benson and a sixth-round choice.
Holmes credited pro personnel director Rob Lohman for putting Benson on the team’s radar.
“He comes to me and says, ‘You seen this Denver receiver?,'” Holmes said. “I had the same response as probably everybody else had, I said, ‘Who the hell is Trinity Benson?’ But when I first watched the tape, I was like, ‘Wow.’ He popped off. He had juice, he had explosiveness. His upside as a route runner gets you really excited, for a young guy. And then the more work you do from an intangibles standpoint — he’s a tough kid that’s a hard worker. He’s smart, does things the right way.”
Heading into cuts, Holmes said he and his staff would rank players they thought might be available, and Benson ended up the No. 1 wideout in those conversations. That led to Holmes phoning Broncos counterpart George Paton about a possible deal.
The Lions made the trade because they didn’t want to risk getting beat by one of the six teams ahead of them on the waiver-claim order.
And for what it’s worth, cornerback Mike Ford never came up in the trade conversations with the Broncos. Ford landed in Denver via waivers after he was cut by the Lions.
► The additions of Hodge and Benson leave the Lions with seven wide receivers, which makes the roster feel lopsided, but Holmes explained his logic regarding the situation.
“We’re just compiling the best 53 football players,” he said. “We’re not going to eliminate a football player because it’s an overkill at a position. …There’s tough decisions you have to make, we know that. We’re not gonna go less because we have to, perceived, go less.”
► The outside perception remains the Lions are weak at receiver. Holmes has heard that noise, but rejects the narrative. He also emphasized the receiver position won’t factor into his ability to effectively evaluate starting quarterback Jared Goff.
“I do think that Jared, that you can fairly evaluate him, because he’s throwing to some guys that are getting open, are creating separation, that have explosiveness, that are making tough catches, that are being where they’re supposed to be,” Holmes said. “Jared is a very accurate quarterback and you have receivers that are getting open, and at the end of the day, that’s what the receiver’s job is to do is to get open and catch the football, so I think it’s been easy to evaluate Jared, up to this point.”
► First-round pick Penei Sewell took his lumps during the preseason, surrendering four quarterback pressures and a sack in his limited playing time. While there’s been some hand-wringing among fans on social media and talk radio, Holmes isn’t worried.
“He’s going through the normal process that a rookie would go through, regardless of where he was drafted,” Holmes said. “That’s a tough position to play out there on that island, and he’s sat out for that year. What he’s done, I know that’s magnified about what’s maybe perceived and seen as a hiccup here or there, but there’s so much other good stuff out there that’s kind of hidden when you deep dive the film, little subtle nuances that he’s doing that is going to make a big difference.”
► Holmes also did his best to quell concerns about Swift, who has missed extensive practice time with a groin injury.
“I expect him to be a weapon,” Holmes said. “That’s what he is in both phases, run and pass. I’m not trying to put a number on how many plays he’s going to play or how much time or all that. We’ll let that stuff play itself out. He’s had a good week of practice. He looked good out there today. He looked explosive. He’s got juice, and he showed that playmaking ability in practice. We’re really excited about him.”
► Finally, one player both Holmes and Campbell heaped praised on was safety Will Harris, who has struggled to find his footing through his first two seasons.
“The acceleration of his development, how quickly it has gotten to, in terms of knowing him when he came out of (Boston College) and seeing him early on, you’ve got to be really, really excited about that,” Holmes said.
Campbell noted Harris, along with cornerback Amani Oruwariye, had the best training camps of any players on the roster. Harris is projected to start at safety, opposite Tracy Walker.