Coaching Senior Bowl all-star game gives Detroit Lions leg up in NFL draft process

Detroit Free Press

For the fourth time in the past 13 seasons, the Detroit Lions are headed to Mobile, Alabama, to coach the Senior Bowl.

The top college all-star game announced this year’s coaching staffs Tuesday, with the Lions and New York Jets in charge of the 2022 teams.

Typically, the NFL teams that finish with the worst records and return their head coach are given the option to coach the game.

The Lions went 3-13-1 in Dan Campbell’s first season as coach and will pick second in April’s NFL draft. The Jets, in their first season under Dearborn native Robert Saleh, went 4-13 and will pick fourth.

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According to the Senior Bowl, head coaches will serve primarily in an advisory capacity during game week, while assistants will take bigger leadership roles with the teams.

Campbell said in December he would welcome the opportunity to coach in the Feb. 5 game, which also includes a week of practice, though he and general manager Brad Holmes had discussed possible pitfalls.

“I think the trick is, and both Brad and I feel this way, yes, there’s an advantage, but you also got to be careful that you don’t get swayed by that, either,” Campbell said. “It’s no different than we’re going to go look at these two receivers. You’re going to go look at this receiver who you think is a top-10 pick, but you don’t look at this one. You get anchored by looking at that one live, so there is a little bit of that. But to answer your question, yes, we’d be open to it.”

The Lions have coached the Senior Bowl four other times since 2001, and have played in three playoff games in the same span.

In 2003, Marty Mornhinweg took his staff to coach the game and was fired a week later for Steve Mariucci.

Jim Schwartz coached in two Senior Bowls, in 2010, after his first season in Detroit, and 2013, before his last. And Matt Patricia coached the 2020 game, after his second season with the Lions.

The Lions traded up to draft guard Jonah Jackson in the third round after working with him on the North team that year and signed two Senior Bowl players — safety Jalen Elliott, tight end long snapper Steven Wirtel — as undrafted free agents. They also spent a fourth-round pick in 2020 on guard Logan Stenberg, who played for the South team in the Senior Bowl.

While none of the players likely to go at the top of the draft — Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and pass rushers Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan and Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon — are expected to play in this year’s Senior Bowl, the game has commitments from several of the draft’s top quarterback prospects, including Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, all potential first-round picks.

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Nevada’s Carson Strong and Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe also are slated to play in the game.

“I’ve coached the Senior Bowl before,” Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “I think it’s really nice to go down there and get your hands on players and you really get to know who they are just in-depth. I think it’s a good opportunity for us and our scouting department, the whole Detroit Lions, is to get your eyes on a lot of different guys. Not only on the guys on your roster, but the guys on the other roster. So I think it’s an advantage. Obviously, coaches don’t want to do it, because that means you didn’t play as well as you wanted to during the season. But it’s an opportunity for us to get a step up on the competition when it comes to the draft.”

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Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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