At the end of Tuesday’s Senior Bowl practice, two of the best players on the American team lined up opposite each other. Florida State edge defender Jermaine Johnson squared up against Kentucky’s behemoth offensive tackle Darian Kinnard. As the rest of the squad watched, Johnson tried his best to go through Kinnard to get to Western Kentucky quarterback Bailey Zappe for three straight reps.
Johnson decisively won the first rep, and he let Kinnard know it. The second was indecisive. The third rep, Kinnard perfectly stymied Johnson’s spin move attempt, and waved goodbye to Johnson as the rest of the American team offense roared.
Eventually, the team turned to Duce Staley for an official ruling. Staley, the Lions running backs coach/assistant head coach who has been the acting head coach this week at the Senior Bowl, ruled in the favor of the offense. Everyone on the defensive side of the ball had to do push ups. You be the judge:
The Lions opened Wednesday’s practice with another competitive set of reps. This time, South Carolina edge defender Kingsley Enagbare completely blew up San Diego State tight end Daniel Bellinger decisive on back-to-back reps.
For many spectators at the Senior Bowl, this was a unique way to build some excitement and competition for the players on hand. For anyone that has watched the Lions practice under this coaching squad, it was standard operating procedure.
These types of competitive, team-building drills have been baked into practices since Dan Campbell and company have taken over.
“So it’s competition. Everything is about competition,” Staley said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve got to get them to compete. That’s the one thing: digest the information and compete.”
And while it was Campbell that brought that intensity to Detroit, it’s been Staley who brought it to Mobile. Full practice scheduling has been Staley’s job this week, and he’s put his own twist on it for these college seniors.
“There’s a certain way that we do things where we’re at, but that’s his own spin, his own flavor into it,” Campbell said on Wednesday. “We’re big into competition and certainly Duce is. He’s big into competition and winning your one-on-ones. Somebody’s gotta win somebody’s gotta lose and there’s a price to be paid either way.”
That competition naturally flows down to Detroit’s coaching staff, which is filled with former players in this league. One of those coaches—defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn—didn’t think Staley was playing fair with his rulings.
“That was BS, and Duce knew it was BS,” Glenn said. “I’m just going to keep that at that. When you’re the head coach, you can do whatever you want to do. He’s taking full advantage of that.”
Staley admitted there may have been some bias in his decision.
“I’m head coach. Offense wins. If offense would’ve lost, I had to do push ups.”