Dan Campbell and his Detroit Lions coaching staff just made a bold and brilliant move

Detroit Free Press

You don’t fool me, Dan Campbell.

You can’t trick me with the tipped-back cap and your easy smile. I see past all that folksy charm.

And what I see is some subtle, calculated genius at work with the Detroit Lions.

As I’ve said before, the unofficial NFL law of hiring coaches requires  the new coach to be the opposite of the previous coach.

Jim Schwartz, with his smarts and Georgetown economics degree, was the opposite of Rod Marinelli.

CLASS IS IN SESSION: What they’re saying about Lions rookies not named Aidan Hutchinson

Jim Caldwell, with his grandfatherly demeanor and insistence on decorum, was the opposite of Schwartz’s lack of control.

Matt Patricia, with his label as a genius defensive mind, was the opposite of Caldwell’s questionable game-management skills.

And Campbell, with his player-friendly affable nature, is the opposite of Patricia, who was just a big, old meanie.

As you can tell, I study Lions coaches the way rabbinical students study the Talmud.

But this isn’t just another tribute to Campbell’s colorful, quirky, quippy personality. You’ve read plenty of those, with even more on the way when HBO’s “Hard Knocks” comes out in August. We all might OD on D.C.

No, this is a more serious examination of something Campbell and his staff did at minicamp and over the final two weeks of the offseason program. Campbell and his staff made comments that subtly raised expectations for key players.

MORE FROM MONARREZ: People think I’m negative about the Lions. They’re right.

It was something rarely seen Lions coaches do, and it’s about time. This is about accountability, and Campbell is finding a way to achieve it without bluster, bravado or bullying.

Just facts. And some hard truths, like the one Duce Staley, an assistant head coach in charge of running backs, dropped about D’Andre Swift.

“Injuries happen,” Staley said, “but one of the things Swift and I had a conversation about is you’ve got to be able to play through some of these injuries as a running back. We all know there’s a difference between being injured and hurt. As soon as you step in this building as a running back, Day 1 training camp, you’re not going to feel the same.

“There will be some things you have to fight through.”

I don’t want to start any drama because I’m not privy to what has been discussed between Swift and Staley. But Staley’s comments border on questioning Swift’s toughness. And maybe there’s something to that.

Swift is an electric player and an integral part of the offense, but he has missed seven games in his first two seasons. I’ve never sensed a problem with toughness, but by publicly stating that Swift needs to play through being hurt, you can bet reporters and everyone else will wonder whether Swift is hurt or truly injured the next time he misses a game.

I don’t know there was a direct correlation between Staley’s words, but Swift was one of a ew veterans taking part Monday in one of the final organized team activities.

“Trying to get better, perfect my craft,” he told the Free Press.

I think Swift is on the brink of a breakout season. He has 17 total touchdowns over two seasons, he averages 4.3 yards per carry and had 1,069 yards from scrimmage last year. Those numbers are similar to the first two seasons Dalvin Cook had before he became a Pro Bowler in Year 3.

But the bigger statement came from quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell, who made Jared Goff sound like a Pro Bowler, if not an MVP candidate.

“When I say he’s had an excellent spring, I’m not kidding,” Brunell said. “He really has done very well with learning, his work ethic, he comes out here and works, puts the time in, it’s very important to him. Just his ability to throw the ball, I mean he has elite arm talent, it’s been fun to watch and I think he’s in a great place right now.

“Just from last year to this year, he’s better at every aspect of his game as a professional. I mean he’s killing, man, really proud of him.”

Goff had a really challenging year in 2021. He got dissed by the Rams, then traded. He and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn never clicked. And he didn’t exactly have an abundance of quality pass-catchers and playmakers at his disposal.

Goff was better by almost any metric and a lot more productive — 11 touchdowns and two interceptions — after Campbell started calling plays Nov. 14 in Pittsburgh. Still, if you watched Goff and weren’t tied to the stat sheet, there was still something missing.

I said from the start of last season that it was going to be hard, if not unfair, to judge Goff in the first year of this rebuild. But you also have to consider the trend we’ve seen. He didn’t click with two straight play-callers in Lynn and Sean McVay, and now he might end up with his fourth play-caller in less than two years if Ben Johnson is awarded that responsibility.

MORE FROM MONARREZ: Here’s the real reason Dan Campbell is waiting so long to say who calls plays on offense

Campbell said at minicamp that there haven’t been any red flags with Goff, and that he has improved his footwork and fundamentals while playing faster. Campbell didn’t hype Goff and Swift as much as his surrogates, but make no mistake — a team’s messaging about key players such as Goff and Swift are orchestrated by the head coach.

And it’s a bold and brilliant move on Campbell’s part. He needs to light a fire under his best players and, by extension, his team, because he knows he can’t have another bad season.

The Lions only won three games last year, but Campbell got a free pass in the first year of a rebuild, especially as the team stayed together and played hard even through so many losses and some big injuries.

But the free pass is revoked in Year 2. All the charm and good cheer stoked by offseason hype and reality TV will quickly curdle with a poor start and a bad season. The Lions need to win at least seven games to prove they’re making strides. Fewer than that, and Campbell enters 2023 sitting on a toasty seat with the thermometer determined by his win total.

Few struggling coaches survive more than three years. Even the great Mike Ditka only last three seasons in New Orleans. The NFL waits for no one, especially a coach such as Campbell who enters this season with an 8-20-1 record (including his interim stint in Miami) and a lot still left to prove. And it certainly doesn’t wait for players who don’t deliver on their promise.

Soon enough, training camp will be here. So let the “Hard Knocks” hype come. Let everyone else talk about biting kneecaps. But I don’t give a mouse’s tushy about Campbell’s bon mots. To me, that’s all a façade, mere window dressing we should look past. If we do that, we might just see a careful, calculating coach quietly plotting his next smart move.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

Articles You May Like

Detroit Lions players meet with the media | June 11, 2024
Lions penalized to forfeit OTA practice for violating player contact rules
Lions sign veteran linebacker with ties to Lions coaching staff
5 nearly unknown Lions players that have a chance to sneak on to the 53-man roster this year
Open thread: Who will be the Lions’ most important offseason addition?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *