Detroit Lions mailbag: Deciphering Dan Campbell’s options at offensive coordinator

Detroit Free Press

I should have figured this was coming when I put out a call for mailbag questions late Monday night, but after the Detroit Lions failed to reach 17 points for the third time in as many games with head coach Dan Campbell calling offensive plays, a half dozen or so of you asked about the Lions’ plans at offensive coordinator going forward.

Campbell has given no indication he will give up play calling this season, and I’d be surprised if he relinquished those duties in the next six weeks. There’s no great candidate to bring in, in early December, Campbell has said he wants a direct line to quarterback Jared Goff during games, and he seems pleased with the operation since he demoted Anthony Lynn.

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Next season, however, is a different story. The Lions have told people across the NFL they expect to have a dedicated offensive play caller in place in 2022 and beyond.

I can’t tell you who that would be right now, or even who the realistic candidates are. I suspect Campbell will conduct a wide-ranging search for the position, and I know Buffalo Bills passing game coordinator Ken Dorsey and Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban were on his short list last year.

If the Lions keep the hire in-house, assistant head coach Duce Staley is the most likely candidate. Staley said earlier this month he wants to be a coordinator, which is one thing lacking on his resume as he builds towards being a head coach.

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As for Lynn’s future, I can’t think of any coordinators who had lost their play-calling duties and then stuck around for any meaningful time. Lynn and Campbell are good friends, and Lynn probably would have sat out this season (while getting paid by the Los Angeles Chargers) if Campbell hadn’t talked him into coming to Detroit.

The Lions will have scapegoats on their coaching staff and in their front office this season; that’s how the NFL (and most businesses) work. This January won’t be anywhere near as busy last, but stay tuned for whatever turnover is ahead.

Now, onto your questions.

In your opinion, who are the top three assets on this team? — @MIKoenig44

Figured we’d start with something positive, and I assume Jeff is talking about players here, so I’m going to limit my list to the guys on the field.

In my eyes, the best thing the Lions have going for them is the group we all thought would be their strength heading into the season — the offensive line. And up front, there isn’t anyone better than Frank Ragnow.

Ragnow has not played since Week 4 because of a toe injury, but he’s the Lions’ best player when compared to others at his position around the league. He’s 25 years old, he went to the Pro Bowl last year and he figures to be an anchor up front for years to come.

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It’s early still, but I’d put Penei Sewell at No. 2 on my list. Granted, this is an upside play, but Sewell has held his own at left and right tackle as a 21-year-old rookie. He’s had some hiccups in his performance, like all young players. But he has the makings of a top NFL offensive lineman for a long time.

There isn’t a clear-cut No. 3 choice for this question. D’Andre Swift is a very good player, but running backs are depreciating assets in the NFL. I’m sure plenty of teams could find space for Amani Oruwariye, Tracy Walker and Romeo Okwara, if healthy, in their starting lineups. And Taylor Decker deserves a mention, too.

But I’ll put tight end T.J. Hockenson third on my list for now. Hockenson isn’t as complete a player as the Lions made him out to be when they took him eighth in the 2019 draft. He needs to be more consistent as a blocker, and he disappeared when defenses focused their game plans on him earlier this year. But Hockenson is the Lions’ best receiving threat and he would generate plenty of interest from other NFL teams, if you wanted to use that as a measure of worth.

Is there something football/NFL related that would embarrass the Ford family enough to A) do ANYTHING, including being media present more than twice a year, to bring fans a consistent winner? B) Sell the team. I don’t believe taking the Thanksgiving game away will get it done. — @Famcole1

The Fords are not selling the team. There’s no point even debating that. As for bringing a consistent winner to town, ownership has always been well-meaning, it just has misplaced its trust in the wrong people over the years.

I find it hard to blame Sheila Ford Hamp for the sins of her family’s ownership past. She’s in her second true season as owner, and she made sweeping changes last winter. Yes, she apprenticed under her mother for five or so years, but that was to prepare her for what lies ahead.

I don’t know if she’ll have success, and I’m pretty sure no one else does, either.

One more thing on taking the Thanksgiving game away from the Lions: That hasn’t been an issue for more than a decade and I’m not sure why people are making it one now. First, the NFL has a captive audience on Thanksgiving. It doesn’t need to move a good game to its Thursday viewing window when people will tune in regardless. Second, the league isn’t about to take Thanksgiving away from Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, and it’s not going to just do that to the Lions. The league added a third Thanksgiving game years ago, which was enough to appease its members.

A popular opinion early in the season was that the next draft should focus almost exclusively on defense. Wouldn’t you say that the opposite has turned out to be true? — @WesHolmes10

The offense has certainly been worse than the defense this season, but I think the Lions’ need for blue-chip talent is equal on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, I’d put quarterback and receiver as the Lions’ top needs, and the reality is they must add multiple pass catchers this offseason (including a reliable No. 2 tight end). Defensively, the Lions need to fortify their pass rush and secondary with Okwara and Jeff Okudah coming off Achilles tendon injuries, and they have significant holes at safety and linebacker, too, where Walker, Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are set to be free agents.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to go into the draft intending to splurge only on one side of the ball. That goes double for the Lions, who have a plethora of short- and long-term holes to fill.

When you’re 0-10-1, you generally have enough needs that you can’t go wrong picking any position in the draft.

If you’re making the pick at #1 overall, who does Dave take? — @99Karl_

I wrote about the Lions’ options at No. 1 on Monday, but Karl’s going to put me on the spot. For me, it comes down to two players, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. I’ve watched both, but haven’t done enough canvassing of NFL talent evaluators to have a strong conviction yet.

I say that to say — and I reserve the right to change my mind on this — but I would give Thibodeaux the slight edge over Hutchinson for now. I love Hutchinson’s game and his non-stop motor, and think he will have a long, successful NFL career. Thibodeaux has a smidge more star potential, though, and with five months until the draft, that’s the way I lean.

The Lions need to trade out of the #1 pick. I have no other comment at this time — @JeffJac26158467

Unfortunately, Jeff, I don’t think this is the type of draft where teams will be fawning over one prospect. If it was, the Lions are talent-deficient enough they probably would need to take that player. We’ll see how things pan out, but if the Lions are sitting 1-1 come April, there’s a good chance they make that pick.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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