Growing optimism about Detroit Lions felt at NFL scouting combine: ‘Big offseason’ ahead

Detroit Free Press

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INDIANAPOLIS — Dan Campbell insists his outlook hasn’t changed in the past 12 months. According to the Detroit Lions’ hyper-caffeinated coach, who guzzles souped-up Starbucks and wants to bite off kneecaps, he was just as enthused at this time last year as he was Wednesday while holding court with reporters at the NFL combine.

“This is a fun time no matter where you’re at — from free agency to the draft,” he said.

But it’s even more exciting when operating from a position of strength, which Campbell’s team attained after winning eight of its last 10 games. The Lions’ upward surge changed the complexion of an organization that has become one of the NFL’s most intriguing franchises with a young core of talent, an innovative offense and a magnetic head coach.

Detroit’s dizzying ascent toward a winning record made believers out of skeptics. On Wednesday, the questions posed by reporters were reflective of the team’s rapid metamorphosis. They asked general manager Brad Holmes whether the sudden revival that materialized after the Lions’ 1-6 start validated their decision to bet their fortunes on Campbell.

Not really, Holmes responded.

“I said as soon as he was hired that he had the elite traits of a successful head coach,” Holmes replied. “I’ve always admired the way that he’s able to make the right decisions, lead the team and pull the team out of a dark place.”

Now that the Lions have emerged from that black hole, Holmes sees them continuing to build toward a promising future.

He asserted multiple times that Detroit is headed in the “right direction.” He added it’s his charge to keep “that momentum going.”

“This is gonna be a big offseason,” he volunteered. “Never like to put too much pressure on myself.”

No worries. There is plenty coming from the outside. External expectations are sky-high for the Lions, who were on the cusp of a playoff berth as they approached the regular-season finale against Green Bay. From Campbell’s perspective, that road conquest of a rival in Week 18 served as a bellwether — showing how far the Lions had progressed since they finished with only three wins in 2021.

“To be able to go out to Lambeau, last game of the year, outdoors at night, against that quarterback, against that team that has won the division repeatedly for a number of years, I felt like that was a barometer of where we’re at, where we started and where we have come to. And man, we just continue to go.”

The Lions rolled full steam ahead into the offseason, looking to take the next step toward becoming a real contender. Holmes, more than anyone else, is aware of how much the franchise’s standing has changed in such a short period.

Go back four months, and his decision then to ship tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings as part of a pick swap was seen by outsiders as a capitulation by an organization headed nowhere fast. Now, Holmes is enjoying the last laugh. With some sarcasm, he said he is glad “we can call it a trade now because it was (considered) a wave-the-white-flag-kind of deal at the time.” The positive results achieved on the field in the aftermath of the transaction reshaped perspectives, as Holmes knows all too well. That point was driven home when a reporter asked Holmes if the Lions are so well-stocked that they view their extra first-round selection in this year’s draft as an indulgence.

“Are we in a position to make that luxury pick?” Holmes echoed rhetorically.

He didn’t really supply an answer. But the mere fact that the question was raised shows how much things have changed for the Lions in the past 12 months as needs have turned into desires.

Campbell may not have broken his brisk stride during that period, bopping along as he always has.

But now everybody has caught up to him, supercharged by the Lions’ improvement.

“We’ve come a long way,” Campbell said.

And now everyone is curious about how far they may still go.

Contact Rainer Sabin: Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin.

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