INDIANAPOLIS — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes held 15-minute media sessions with reporters at the NFL scouting combine Tuesday, and touched on a variety of topics related to free agency, the 2022 season and April’s NFL draft.
Hutchinson or Thibodeaux
Holmes saw Thibodeaux’s best game of the season in-person in October, when he scouted the Oregon-UCLA game the day before the Lions played the Los Angeles Rams.
Thibodeaux had nine tackles, including 4.5 for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble in the game.
“He had a productive game that game,” Holmes said. “I don’t know if that’s because I timed it up right. He had a productive game and he’s a good-looking prospect, obviously. … I was able to see him up close, which was good.”
Holmes did not attend any Michigan games in person last season and is returning to Detroit before both players work out Saturday. Asked what he hopes to learn about Hutchinson this week, Holmes said, “Hopefully, he comes out here and competes.”
“From what I know of him, he seems like that type of guy. He’s a local guy, he’s from Detroit, plays hard, had a very productive year. We’ll get whatever questions answered out of him throughout this week and going forward.”
The Lions will do more thorough dives into both prospects in the coming weeks as they set their draft board. Hutchinson is generally considered the better prospect now, though some evaluators feel Thibodeaux has more upside.
“I always say, this time of the year it’s a little cloudy,” Holmes said. “There’s smoke around everything at this stage of the process. Now, we feel really good at where we’re at, at this stage of the process. But I think as we finish each phase — we got through the Senior Bowl, now it’s this phase, then we’ll get into the pro days. Each phase, the smoke will start to clear up and we’ll get good clarity.”
Staying a while?
Both Campbell and Holmes are planning to return to Detroit on Wednesday, but don’t read too much into their travel plans.
Key evaluators on several NFL teams have decided against making a week of the combine, and some teams kept their coaches and/or GMs home altogether.
The combine remains important, primarily for the medical information and for evaluators to lay eyes on players in-person in competitive situations. But new rules instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic have given teams more ways to connect with and evaluate prospects.
Along with the traditional formal combine interviews and top-30 prospect visits, for instance, teams can spend multiple hours with players on Zoom between now and the draft. Those film and get-to-know-you sessions let teams get a much deeper understanding of the players they’re trying to evaluate.
“I do think the virtual world, it has allowed us to learn how to be a lot more efficient in a lot of areas,” Holmes said. “You guys have heard me talk at length, I’m a big proponent of using the technology as the accelerator that it is. So there was not really many complaints from our end (about last year’s virtual combine). We just kind of maximized the resources that we had available to us at that time.”
QB of the future?
Campbell had an interesting answer — or more accurately, an interesting omission — when asked about the Lions’ backup quarterback spot Tuesday.
Asked what he wants in that position, Campbell said someone who helps the team survive a game or short stretch of games, and made no mention of having a young signal caller to develop behind starter Jared Goff.
Goff and futures signee Steven Montez are the only Lions quarterbacks currently under contract for 2022. Both Tim Boyle and David Blough are pending free agents.
“I think you’re looking for a guy at that position that can move the offense,” Campbell said. “More than anything it’s like, ‘Hey, he’s not going to do anything that’s going to hurt this team or hurt your offense and he can function and he’s going to get you into the right play with run checks,’ things of that nature. Knowing that we’re not going to have to put everything on him to win a game. We just need to make sure that this guy can move it. Can move the ball. Can move his offense. I think that’s what you’re looking for, no more no less.”
Making the call
Campbell said he has not made a decision on whether he or offensive coordinator Ben Johnson will call plays this fall.
“I’m going to make that decision sometime between now and the first game of the season,” he said. “I’m just going to let this go as it goes and just get a feel of it. Let Ben go, let him fly and I’ll be involved and we’ll be talking about it. Where we go from here. How we build it. Where do the little things that we need to get better at and what we want to improve and what we kind of want to make our own. And then I’ll decide. I mean, I’ll decide at some point. But I’m not in any hurry with that, either. I just want Ben to do what he did toward the back end of the year and just let him go. Let him continue to grow and kind of make it our own. See where it goes.”
Smelling the Flowers
Trey Flowers is a prime candidate to be a cap casualty this spring because of a huge salary cap number ($23.2 million), looming roster bonus and limited production the past two seasons, but neither Campbell nor Holmes would delve into the defensive end’s future Tuesday.
“Look, I love Trey,” Campbell said. “He’s everything you’re looking for from the intangibles and he’s had a heck of a career. I love everything that he stands for and we’ll make that decision in time.”
Holmes said he wanted to keep “open dialogue” with Flowers and his camp in the coming weeks. Asked if that meant he wanted Flowers to take a pay cut for 2022, Holmes said, “We just keep open dialogue with all our players, with whatever situation is going on. That’s what we do and just kind of keep it open and honest.”
I’ll be writing more about free agency in the coming weeks, but one quote from Holmes stood out on the Lions’ plans and whether they might target more cornerstone players, after sticking primarily to one-year deals last spring.
“It’s great when it works out and you can find that on a one-year deal, isn’t it?” Holmes said. “But like I was saying when we talked at the end of the season, we were in a position where we had to resort to a lot of those one-year deals, just with the resources that we had available to us. We’ll have a little bit more resources available to us this year, where we can search for … we’re not just searching for one-year deal guys. I’m not saying that we won’t sign a guy that’s on a one-year deal, that’ll still be in play, but I guess you can say the universe is a lot more open to us this year.”
Campbell had a good line Tuesday when asked if he’s following the Aaron Rodgers’ saga in Green Bay.
“No. Unless he’s leaving? Is he leaving?” Campbell said, laughing. “No, look. I can’t worry. … I have to assume he’s going to be there next year. That’s what, we have to be ready to go. That’s what we’re going to have to play against and that’s the standard that’s been set in our division. You got to try to unseat him.”