Lions’ Campbell talks elevated expectations, determining football character and more

Detroit News

Phoenix, Ariz. — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell met with the media at the league meetings Tuesday morning. He addressed several topics, including the team’s interest in defensive tackle Calais Campbell, upcoming joint practices with the New York Giants and squashing the idea the Lions could be interested in quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Here are some of the leftover nuggets from Campbell’s session:

▶ On the off-chance you haven’t been paying attention, outside expectations for the Detroit Lions have rapidly swelled after the team finished out last season winning eight of their final 10 games, combined with what have been perceived as smart free-agent additions at positions of need.

And while the expectations inside the building have consistently been high, they’ve also been realistic, as the franchise traversed the early stages of a difficult rebuild. But, coming out the other side of that process, Campbell said the bar in 2023 is the NFC North crown and a home playoff game.

“I think we’re positioned much better to swing with the big boys this year,” Campbell said. “Now, I can’t tell ya what that means in win totals, but that is the goal, man. We got to go get this division.”

Those expectations are rooted in both Detroit’s budding base of talent, but also the culture Campbell has installed, along with general manager Brad Holmes. During a recent chat with the roster’s longest-tenured player, Taylor Decker, Campbell said the two discussed the impact of the buy-in and belief that grew during the second half of last season.

“I think there’s a feeling that will be hard to lose,” Campbell said. “It would be hard to lose that, because there again, once you get the right type of guys, and have been put through the pressure our guys have, and they come from where they’ve come from, man, you appreciate it a lot more. And on top of that, you keep stacking a little bit of talent, you keep upgrading, you keep bringing in reinforcements, and the foundation is here. Then, you bring in guys who are like-minded about winning and can play some ball, and can help you in areas, I think it’s hard to fail.”

▶ One of those like-minded individuals the Lions added this offseason was cornerback Cam Sutton.

“Cam just popped off the tape, just because the way he played, man, was everything we’re about,” Campbell said. “It’s not always the flashiest, but, man, it’s productive, it’s violent and it’s nasty. He fits us, and we knew he could help us.”

▶ In the ongoing debate about football character in relation to prospective draft pick Jalen Carter, Campbell said there are things that can help put concerns to rest, starting with consistently good effort on tape and honesty in the pre-draft interview process.

“I would say football character is very important,” Campbell said. “Of course, the human being always will make the difference. We don’t want to bring in somebody that’s going to do something that we’re all going to be sorry about. That’s not the idea. But, usually, if you have high football character, the other is pretty good. …You have to weigh how much is in that player. Is that player going to benefit your team or impact your team and how consistent is it going to be? Then, you have to make that determination.”

As the team does with every prospect they’ll consider drafting, they’re continuing to dig in on Carter, talking to his college coaches and teammates. Campbell said the team recently learned some “interesting” things about the Georgia standout they hadn’t previously known after interviewing a teammate.

Campbell also said a strong locker room, which he believes the Lions have two years into his tenure, offers the opportunity to take on selective risks.

“I do think that’s possible,” Campbell said. “But, without the core, you can’t do it. You can’t take a swing at one of those. If you feel like your foundation is set, you can get away with one, maybe two, maybe. But, you can get away with one.”

▶ One of the most compelling position battles is setting up to be at right guard, where incumbent Halapoulivaati Vaitai will seek to fend off the recently re-signed challenger Graham Glasgow. With both players having extensive experience, Campbell said the competition epitomizes a new motto he’s been using this offseason.

“This is my new term, that ‘you’re raising the floor,’ right?” Campbell said. “A guy like Graham raises the floor. He’s been a starter in this league. He’s been a pretty good center. He’s got guard flex, obviously. And so he’s a guy that we know that can go in there and compete to start. And let’s see where Big V’s at coming off this back. I know we have some optimism in the building, you know? But, we won’t know. And really, that’s what Graham gives you, man. He gives you ability — he can step in and he can hold the fort down.”

▶ Campbell is not a fan of the considered proposal to allow the flexing of late-season games to Thursday night.

▶ There’s been a lot of debate about the fairness of pushing the quarterback during a sneak, which the Philadelphia Eagles used to great effectiveness throughout last season. And despite several teams pushing to ban the strategy, Campbell made it clear he was not among that group.

“I’m all good with it,” Campbell said. “I’ve got no problem, man. Here’s why: I think of it defensively, you’ve gotta have a plan to stop it. That’s what fires me up. We’re going to have a plan to stop it. That’s like my goal, we come back here next year and (teams) will be like, all right, we can’t do that anymore. You know? Listen, you’ve got something good, defensively, you’ve got to find a way to stop it. This will be fun.

Echoing Holmes’ comments from earlier in the week, Campbell acknowledged the Lions are on the prowl for receiving help after losing DJ Chark in free agency.

“Yeah, I would say so,” Campbell said. “I think it would be nice to find another guy that can help us out there. I would say our eyes are there. We do have eyes there, somehow, some way. But yeah, we’ll miss Chark. He’s another one. He brought something to us that was a little different than the rest of them, so yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment.

▶ Campbell didn’t have much of an update on former second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike, who missed all of the 2022 season because of a back injury. The two spoke a couple of weeks back, and all indications are the rehab is going well, but the team won’t really know if he’s able to contribute until later this offseason.

“You don’t know with a back,” Campbell said. “But, I mean certainly, he’s going to get an opportunity if the body will allow it.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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