In general, youth is a good thing in the NFL. Those players are in their physical prime, they’ve got the longest runways of their career, and if they’re still on their rookie contracts, they also come very cheap.
But too much youth could get you in trouble. Not only can inexperience hurt you on the field, but naivety can be dangerous in the locker room. The jump to the NFL level is huge, and those that come into the league with hubris or a lazy attitude will either quickly get corrected or see their football dreams fizzle out in a hurry.
That’s where the Lions’ culture comes in. We’ve seen the culture emphasis from the Lions since Day 1 of the Dan Campbell era, and as the Detroit head coach ran down his Year 2 player roster just a couple days into camp, he came to a realization. They don’t have many of those kinds of players around anymore—those “turds” as he infamously called them last year.
On Thursday night he asked his staff to name players who are true professionals that go about their work at the intensity level they want. The list got so long that he had ask his staff a different question.
“‘Let me reframe that question, who do we not have?’” Campbell said, retelling the story. “That’s a good sign. That’s a good sign. That means we had very few, that we feel like really need to grow up. Just from their approach to the game if that makes sense. Listen, being attentive, the way they work, the way they walk through, the urgency, all those things.
“So, we’re on the right track and I would say I feel like we’ve got guys, they’re attentive, they know that the guy next to them is counting on them and they’ve got a job to do. They’re grown men and they’ve got to handle their business.”
Part of the credit for this rapid shift should go to general manager Brad Holmes. He has clearly prioritized high-character football players who eat, sleep and live football. Get enough of those guys in the building, and it’s contagious. But this has always been a goal of Campbell’s and one he described throughout his first year on the job.
“When we get this where we want it, the players are the ones who are regulating this,” Campbell said. “They do it themselves and they know what’s acceptable and unacceptable. And now, we’ve given them the guidelines and now they handle it themselves. It is important and you want to get there, but until they do take it over and they’re able to make it their own and get all of the pieces where we want them and everybody in the right mindset, that’s on us as a coaching staff to have to stay on it and continue to lead them.”
It’s probably too early to say that this roster of players has grown beyond the need for motivation and direction from this coaching staff, but they’re getting close. Amon-Ra St. Brown’s routine of spending nearly 30 minutes post-practice at the Jugs machine has spread to nearly the entire receiving corps and even some defensive backs. On Thursday, Michael Brockers and Charles Harris led the team up the conditioning hill that has mostly gone vacant since the Matt Patricia days. Once used as a punishment by the previous regime, that hill now represents Lions players willingly putting in the extra effort needed to get that extra edge. Remember, all of this is voluntary.
“I can tell they take pride in their responsibility this year,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s huge, man. We’re going to need everybody on this defense to get it done.”