Duce Staley, Ben Johnson, Aubrey Pleasant to have elevated coaching roles at Senior Bowl

Detroit Free Press

Duce Staley will get his first crack at being a head coach next week, and Ben Johnson will get a trial run at offensive coordinator, perhaps in preparation for the real thing.

Staley, Johnson and secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant will take on elevated coaching roles at the Senior Bowl, the college all-star game announced Friday.

The Detroit Lions and New York Jets coaching staffs are scheduled to coach the game, but head coaches Dan Campbell and Robert Saleh will serve primarily in an advisory capacity.

Staley, the Lions assistant head coach and running backs coach, will spend the week as head coach of the American Team, with Johnson as offensive coordinator and Pleasant as defensive coordinator.

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Johnson was Lions’ tight ends coach last fall before taking over as pass game coordinator when offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn was demoted midseason.

He is the favorite to replace Lynn as offensive coordinator, though Campbell has yet to decide who will handle play calling.

“Ben really stepped in there about halfway through the year and became very involved in having a lot of ideas and installing things and having his hand on a lot of the stuff the quarterback position was doing,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said after the season. “Really every position, wide receivers, and really just heightening everybody. His ceiling is, the sky’s the limit for him and excited to hopefully have him back, and we’ll see where that goes.”

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For the first time in the game’s 73-year history, the Senior Bowl is devoting the week to help develop young coaches.

Staley has said he came to Detroit to apprentice under Campbell in hopes of landing a head coaching job in the NFL, while Johnson and Pleasant have never been coordinators at the college or professional level.

Pleasant is considered next in line at defensive coordinator should Aaron Glenn land a head coaching job elsewhere.

Johnson worked closely with Goff the second half of the season, when Campbell took over as play-caller. The Lions won their only three games of the year and saw their scoring increase by more than 4 points per game with Campbell calling plays and Johnson taking a more prominent role in the offense.

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“I think Ben Johnson did a hell of a job for us,” Campbell said.

Along with expanded coaching opportunities for select NFL assistants, four coaches from Historically Black Colleges and Universities will spend the week working as assistants: former Michigan football running back Tyrone Wheatley, now the head coach at Morgan State; Virginia State head coach Reggie Barlow, South Carolina State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jonathan Saxon and Jackson State offensive coordinator/tight ends coach T.C. Taylor.

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

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