Dan Campbell brawled in joint practices as player; as Detroit Lions coach, he doesn’t want that

Detroit Free Press

As a player, Dan Campbell learned joint practices were good for one thing.

“You learn how to fight,” Campbell said Monday. “You learned you always get involved, that’s one. And two is you learn you keep your head on a swivel.”

As a coach, Campbell’s focus will be on something entirely different when the Detroit Lions travel to Indianapolis for two days of joint practices against the Colts this week.

The Lions and Colts practice Wednesday and Thursday at the Grand Park Sports Campus in suburban Indianapolis, then play Game 2 of the preseason Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

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“That was early in my career,” Campbell said of training camp fights. “When I got to Dallas, I remember we were going to practice against the Texans. I remember Coach (Bill) Parcells stood up in front of the room and was like, ‘No fighting. Anybody fights, you’re done.’ And everybody believed it, so we didn’t have one fight and got great work.

“So we just have to make an emphasis of that. I know they will, we will. We’re not out there to fight. But we’re going to compete and have good work, so I would say most of the experiences I’ve had have been really good. Really good.”

The Lions did not have joint practices last summer in Campbell’s first season as coach, in part because he got a late jump on scheduling workouts after taking over in Detroit.

Campbell was intent on having joint practices this summer, however, and after he and Colts coach Frank Reich talked early this offseason, Campbell said it was obvious practicing with the Colts was a fit as much for personality reasons as stylistic ones.

Campbell and Reich have known each other for years, a relationship they forged through coaching circles. Campbell even approached Reich about joining his staff had he gotten the Miami Dolphins head coaching job full-time in 2016.

Campbell also interviewed with Colts general manager Chris Ballard for the Colts head coaching job that went to Reich two years later.

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“You want to trust the partner you’re working with, and I have a ton of respect and a really great relationship with Frank Reich and Chris Ballard,” Campbell said. “I’ve known them for a long time, and I just think they do it right, and they’re like we are in terms of, ‘Man, we’re going to do this the right way.’ And we’ll be able to work together and get great work out of this and be smart about what we’re doing, so I think that’s the most important.”

From a football standpoint, Campbell said joint practices give the Lions what amounts to about an extra game’s worth of reps to evaluate, but in a more controlled environment.

The Lions and Colts will have best-on-best periods of first-team offense against first-team defense, which should allow both teams to sit key starters in Saturday’s preseason game.

A playoff team in two of Reich’s four seasons, the Colts have one of the best running games in the NFL, led by third-year back Jonathan Taylor, a veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan and an athletic, aggressive defense that finished second in the NFL with 33 takeaways last season.

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“It feels like you’re getting two games in a week, two games in two days,” Campbell said. “You won’t have all those reps, but yet we’re going to get over 30 reps with our starters against very good competition, full pads. And it’s structured between Frank and myself. Man, we’ll get all the looks we need to get, all the situations, it’ll just be good.”

Lions quarterback Jared Goff said he is looking forward to facing a new opponent after nearly three weeks of camp.

“I was bummed last year we didn’t get one, so this year getting that against a good team in Indy, a team that’s had some success, a team that’s veteran, I’m sure practices pretty well, will be good for us and will be good for us to go against some other competition other than ourselves,” Goff said. “We’ve kind of, we know our defense, they know us. We’re trying to make up some plays that’ll get them and now we can just go out there and run our own plays and feel pretty good about it.”

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Asked what he sees as the biggest benefit of joint practices, running back Craig Reynolds said, “Competition, baby.”

“It’s going to be competitive,” Reynolds said. “Going up against somebody else for three days, two practices and a preseason game, so it should be fun. I know they’re ready, we’re ready and it’s just going to be a battle out there.”

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

Exhibit B: Colts

Matchup: Lions (0-1) vs. Indianapolis (0-1), exhibition.

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Saturday; Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.

TV/radio: Fox; WXYT-FM (97.1).

For openers: Lions vs. Eagles, regular-season opener; 1 p.m. Sept. 11, Ford Field, Detroit; Fox.

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