Allen Park — While there’s still plenty of newness, and the uncertainty that comes with that, surrounding the Lions’ offense heading into the season opener, the team has one thing working in its favor heading into the Week 1 matchup with San Francisco: Quarterback Jared Goff’s familiarity with the opponent.
“Yeah, I think it helps,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s faced those guys numerous times over the last — whatever it is, four years. It’s really been the same scheme. (New defensive coordinator) DeMeco (Ryans) will do some things that are a little bit different, but for the most part, I think they’re going to keep the essence of what that defense is, the front and some of the coverage-base things.”
Playing for the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers’ NFC West rival, the first five years of his career, Goff has previously battled against Sunday’s opponent eight times. He’s thrown more touchdown passes (14) against them than any other team, but also more interceptions (six), while posting a below-average completion percentage (59.8%) and a losing record (3-5).
“I know those guys fairly well from just playing against them over the years,” Goff said. “But I’m sure they’ll have some new wrinkles for us and some new things. It’s the first game of the season, so who knows what they can bring. I know whatever they showed in the preseason may or may not be what they want to do, so we’ll see. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys, lot of talented players on that defense, so it will be a challenge.”
Ryans, in his fifth season with the 49ers, will coordinate the defense for the first time after former coordinator Robert Saleh was hired to be the New York Jets head coach. Ryans was the team’s inside linebackers coach the past three seasons.
In terms of personnel, the 49ers return many of their starters from a year ago and are getting back Pro Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa, who missed 14 games last season with a torn ACL.
“I played against him when he won Rookie of the Year that 2019 season and he’s a good player,” Goff said. “He does a good job and we’ll know where he is at all times.”
Working in Benson
Ahead of the season, the Lions bolstered their receiving corps by adding Trinity Benson in a trade with the Denver Broncos.
After two years on the Broncos practice squad, Benson flashed serious potential during the preseason, catching all eight passes thrown his way, including a pair of touchdowns. To acquire him, the Lions sent fifth- and seven-round draft picks to the Broncos for Benson and a six-rounder in 2023.
Since arriving, the Lions coaching staff has asked Benson to cram as much of the playbook as he can with the goal of getting him involved in the Week 1 game plan.
“I think that he can be a very productive receiver for us,” Campbell said. “I love his tape. I’m not going to lie to you, when (GM) Brad (Holmes) showed me kind of the cut-ups that he put together of him, I was very intrigued, I was impressed.
“He’s got some twitch about him, he’s got plenty of speed and he’s pretty polished. He’s a pretty polished receiver. We came out here Monday and to watch him run around and do some of our one-on-one routes, routes on air and things of that nature. I was pleased. He’s got a little something to him, which is another reason why Brad made the move that he did. We like this guy. We think he can really help us, I do.”
Campbell believes Benson is capable of lining up outside and in the slot, but the plan is to cage him to the outside until he gets more acclimated with the scheme.
“We don’t just want to throw him to the wolves,” Campbell said.
The Lions named five captains this week, with only outside linebacker Trey Flowers retaining the honors from last season.
Drafted by the New England Patriots, Flowers was signed as a free agent in 2019 to help replicate that scheme and culture in Detroit. The fact that he was able to maintain a leadership position during a time where there’s been a clear effort to erase remnants of the previous regime speaks volumes to the respect he’s garnered in the locker room the past two-plus years.
“That’s just a testament to my character and the way that I play football,” Flowers said. “A lot of people say ‘The Patriot Way,’ but you know, to me, I’ve been playing that way before I even got in the league. It’s always been respecting the game, understanding the importance it is to be detailed, and the importance it is to just be an example before you kind of speak as much.
“Obviously, I do understand that my words can encourage others and things like that, so I find the right time to speak. I think they just see the way I work. The way I go about things and how I hold myself to a high standard.”
A few weeks after the Lions parted ways with head athletic trainer Dave Granito, they’ve hired a familiar face to fill the role.
Kevin Bastin, who served as the franchise’s head trainer from 2014-19 prior to stepping down, is rejoining the organization.
“He was here for a number of years with Coach (Jim) Caldwell and Coach (Matt) Patricia,” Campbell said. “We made that call a while back. We’re fortunate to be able to get him back. He’s an outstanding athletic trainer. He’s got high values, he cares about the players. He’ll give them everything that they need. We’re excited to get him back.”