Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell says he generally tries to do his best to put football to the side when he gets home with his family.
But there are times it still comes up, such as Wednesday evening, when he found himself raving about the Lions’ 2022 No. 2 overall pick.
“I told my wife this last night, I was like, ‘You know what’s great about him is he’s quietly getting better right in front of us,'” Campbell said Thursday about former Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson on Day 3 of minicamp. “He doesn’t say anything, he listens, he’s like a sponge in there, he absorbs the information, watches how things are done and the way coaches want them done and then he’s got a motor and he goes.
“He just learns and gets better every day and you see it.”
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That’s high praise for someone drafted just six weeks ago Thursday.
And while Hutchinson will be one of the favorites to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, his pro inexperience shouldn’t be forgotten.
Hutchinson continues to acclimate: A 21-year-old working his first job with the team he has dreamed of joining since elementary school.
He said Thursday it still feels surreal.
“I don’t know if it has set in yet, to be honest with you, like I’m here, I’m a Detroit Lion, it’s just the weirdest thing thinking back to when I grew up and stuff and now I’m here,” he said. “But I’m rolling with the punches, you go from combine, to draft, to this to that, as a rookie we’re just out here always going to the next thing. But it’s great, though, and super crazy that I’m here.”
Hutchinson noted he still hasn’t found a place of his own; he’s still living with his parents in Plymouth. (Though he’s hoping that can change after next week, when rookies get their break before training camp.)
One thing that is starting to slow down, he said, is the game.
According to Hutchinson, everything is a beat faster at the NFL level — the time allotted to understand schemes, the pace between drills and, most notably, the hands and feet of the linemen he’s facing — but after working with the veterans the past few weeks he feels up to speed.
He has improved daily by following defensive leaders, especially Charles Harris.
“He’s a guy, man, he works, he works so hard,” Hutchinson said. “I see him getting that extra work in and whenever he does something, he pushes me to do more and I definitely look up to him and admire his work ethic for sure.”
Hutchinson has gotten first-, second- and third team reps in OTAs and minicamp, but he’s listed as a starter on the depth chart, opposite Romeo Okwara.
He has consistently made plays in the backfield this spring against second-string tackles in the Lions’ new scheme that emphasizes getting up field instead of holding ground at the line of scrimmage. He also held his own against Penei Sewell in limited reps against the Lions’ 2021 first-round pick.
Hutchinson is learning his third new scheme in as many years. But he said he’s not focusing on the differences from his years at Michigan. Instead, he’s just being himself.
“If you’re a really good football player, you’re going to be a great football player in every scheme,” he said. “If there was a perfect defense, everyone would be running it, so everybody has their different style, everyone has got their own way, but I know I’m a dominant player and I’m going to continue to do what I do, no matter what scheme I’m in.”
Training camp’s beginning is nearly six weeks away. Hutchinson said he’s looking forward to a little downtime to rest up, but he’s equally excited to get going.
It has been more than five months since he has put pads on and hit somebody. While he’s enjoying the day-to-day process of camp, he’s looking forward to the first day with pats, the Lions’ preseason opener in August and the regular-season opener in September, all coming up in the next 100 days.
He said his main focus is taking in advice and coupling that with the things that got him here.
“I know my expectations and I pride myself on not making the same mistake twice,” he said. “I can really feel it every day I’m learning something new and I’m screwing up, but it’s okay because that’s what it takes to take that next step.
“My main goal was to go out and prove why the Lions drafted me so high, continue to prove people wrong and continue to prove myself right. That’s always been my mentality and going out here, that’s my mentality every day.”
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.