Aidan Hutchinson winning over Detroit Lions with humble approach, smooth voice

Detroit Free Press

As a football player, Aidan Hutchinson has done nothing but impress his teammates through the first five practices of training camp. As a singer, Hutchinson is apparently pretty good, too.

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said Hutchinson delivered a memorable rendition of the Michael Jackson song “Billie Jean” as part of the team’s rookie initiation on Saturday.

With his name, school (Michigan) and signing bonus ($23.15 million) plastered on the screen behind him, Hutchinson, the Lions’ first round pick, had teammates cheering loudly when he finished his song in the Lions’ team meeting room.

“It was money,” offensive tackle Penei Sewell said. “Like, you had to be there.”

“It’s only my fourth year, but that was definitely the best rookie performance (I’ve seen),” defensive lineman John Cominsky said.

“It was really good,” said defensive tackle Michael Brockers. “A little MJ in there, so you know he set the tempo with the coaches. They were all into it, so seeing that, he definitely set his tone with the team. So he’s one of us.”

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The No. 2 pick of April’s draft, Hutchinson has been a welcomed addition to a Lions defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in sacks last season and allowed the second most points in the NFL.

He humbly submitted to his rookie hazing, to the satisfaction of his veteran teammates and in front of “Hard Knocks” cameras; it’s common practice around the NFL for rookies to sing their school fight song or another song in training camp.

And he’s been as good as advertised on the field for a defense in desperate need of playmakers.

“I’m always impressed by someone who works hard,” Cominsky said. “Like talent, obviously you worked hard to get your talent and some guys are born with it and he has great technique. Point of attack, he’s throwing the move he’s supposed to.

“But the most impressive thing is like, in the meeting rooms and out here on the field, he’s running after the ball and doing the little things. He’s not out here too proud to run after the ball or too proud to pay attention in the meeting room. But he’s remained humble and I just think it’s cool to just be able to watch that and watch him run after the ball. He’s getting all kind of reps out here. Like he probably gets more reps than anybody out here and to see him run after the ball play after play, that’s most impressive to me.”

Hutchinson has played both end spots in the Lions’ base defense and as an interior rusher in sub packages.

He’s assumed a starting spot with the first-team defense, where he often lines up next to Brockers on the Lions’ new four-man front. And coming off a 14-sack season season at Michigan in which he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, he has shown menacing traits as both a pass rusher and run defender.

[ First day in pads, full house of fans provided needed boost in Lions training camp ]

“He is (beyond his years),” said Brockers, the Lions’ most veteran defensive lineman entering his 11th NFL season. “It’s not just his size and his physique, it’s his mentality, too. He’s taking a lot in, he’s a sponge. He’s ready to learn. He’s a yes sir, no sir kind of guy, which you love. He doesn’t have any attached egos to him. He’s coming in ready to work and that’s what you love to see as a rookie.”

Campbell said Hutchinson’s humble approach is a big reason why he’s been so quickly accepted by his veteran teammates, and why he’s been so noticeably  disruptive in practice.

On Saturday, Hutchinson blew up three straight plays against the first-team offense, beating Jonah Jackson for a run stop and Sewell for a would-be sack. On the first padded practice of summer Monday, he was a standout in nine-on-seven run drills.

“He’s not coming in here being loud and talking a bunch of trash or doing anything like that,” Campbell said. “He knows he’s got to earn his right. Just cause he was a first-round pick doesn’t mean that he’s automatically got the respect of everybody in there. He’s got to earn that, and he understands it. So he goes out there and he just works his ass off in practice, and then in meetings he keeps his mouth shut until he’s asked a question, and so that’s exactly what you want in a rookie, he’s going to earn their respect.”

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said he expects Hutchinson to endure some growing pains this fall, but that Hutchinson already has proven more athletic than thought and is “going to help us a lot.”

“There’s some times where he will do his own thing, but most good players do,” Glenn said. “And they make plays and they do that. The thing that he has to make sure he manages is, man, this is the NFL so they’re going to watch you, they’re going to look at you on tape and see when you try to go out there and make those plays and do things outside of the defense, and we just got to reel him back in. But that’s OK. We’re going to make sure he’s going to be good.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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