Wojo: As Lions’ expectations rocket, Jared Goff eager for more

Detroit News

Allen Park – Jared Goff is unbothered. Go ahead, ask him how he feels about heightened expectations, or how he feels about a possible contract extension. Ask him how much more he needs to do as the Lions’ quarterback. Ask him how he feels about Jameson Williams’ occasional social media stir.

Shrug. A few pleasant words. Quick smile. Have a nice day.

It’s fortuitous timing that just when Goff is the most comfortable/confident he’s been in his career, he’ll be asked to do more than ever, with more at stake and higher goals. The Lions are supposed to be the NFL’s next big thing, something that happens once every 60 years. They’re betting favorites to win the NFC North and they sometimes get mentioned in the same paragraph as “Super Bowl.”

After closing last season on an 8-2 flourish to finish 9-8, they needed to fix keys elements of their defense. So GM Brad Holmes went out and signed practically an entire new secondary, turning it from a weakness into a strength.

Now all they have to do is prove last season’s offensive splurge wasn’t a fluke. To make sure, they added two new running backs, a new tight end and a veteran receiver to an already-strong offensive line. And all Goff has to do is tie it together and reprise what he did last season, arguably the best of his career.

More: Lions minicamp observations: Retooled defensive backfield continue to impress

In his third season under Dan Campbell, his second under offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Goff will have more pieces to play with, more calls to make and more responsibility. It’s a lot to handle for a quarterback and a team in a rare position – expected to do big things, despite technically having done no big things, no playoffs yet.

“I feel very comfortable, but I understand, and I think we all understand, we’re not going to just show up and win because we were good for the last 10 games last year,” Goff said Tuesday as the Lions began mandatory minicamp. “If anything, it’s going to be harder. Teams are going to give us a better shot this year and we have to be prepared. If we try to walk out there like we won eight out of ten and we’re just going to keep on rolling, it won’t happen.”

Feel-good vibes

The Lions are a hot story right now, locally and nationally. The feel-good vibes from Campbell and his staff are palpable, and the excitement is warranted. It also can create a backlash, especially from those who still consider Goff unproven. He completed 65% of his passes with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions – zero in his final 324 attempts – and earned his third Pro Bowl nod, after two with the Rams.

Yet critics regularly rank him outside the top 10 NFL quarterbacks and wonder if he’s ready for this. When Goff was abruptly exiled from Los Angeles to Detroit two years ago, he wasn’t ready for it. Clearly, in their words and actions, the Lions think he is now. They didn’t add an experienced quarterback to the roster and they drafted a guy, Hendon Hooker, still recovering from knee surgery.

“I mean he is a better quarterback than he was (in L.A.), in my opinion,” Campbell said. “Because he can do more things. I mean we have come lightyears ahead of where he was when we walked in and just start teaching him protections. … We ask him to do a lot more, in my opinion, than what (the Rams) were actually doing out there.”

Johnson, who turned down head-coach interviews to return to this offense, thinks he’s ready. Campbell is positive he can do more.

More: Marvin Jones Jr. thrilled to reunite with Lions: ‘Feels like I’m back home’

“I think he has settled in with us,” Campbell said. “Everybody knows what he came from and that wasn’t the easiest thing. He just hung in there, and I think what you’re seeing is a guy who just put his head down and went back to work and now his confidence has really grown.”

Goff helped guide Los Angeles to the Super Bowl four years ago and lost to New England 13-3. That ride somehow gets dismissed because the Rams’ offense eventually faded, and Sean McVay lost faith in his quarterback. From there to here, what a transformation, as the Lions posted a top-five offense.

By signing running back David Montgomery, drafting Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round and adding Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta, the Lions showed they wanted more. More explosive plays, more dependability.

That’s why Marvin Jones is back, to be the wise, steady receiver who had a career-high 76 receptions his last season here. He’s quickly getting comfortable with Goff.

“One thing that stands out is his anticipation,” Jones said. “When you’re coming out of those breaks, the football is right there.”

In the absence of superior arm strength, Goff leans on the cerebral side, when to check down, when to make calls to adjust the line. It’s timing and chemistry, the two elements everyone’s waiting to see between Goff and Williams.

The Lions traded up to grab the speedy Williams last year, despite a knee injury. The fastest way to turn an effective offense into an explosive one is with a burner who goes deep. But Goff only connected with him once in limited action, and now Williams will serve a six-game suspension for a gambling violation.

Flashes of potential

During camp, there are flashes of potential and flashes of miscommunication. In the social-media world, there are mixed messages. Williams recently explained he doesn’t take those forums seriously, and it wasn’t a big deal that he “liked” a Tweet suggesting the Lions trade for Lamar Jackson.

Asked about his relationship with Williams, Goff sounded, well, unbothered.

“You guys are bored, huh?” Goff said with a faint smile. “It’s alright. He likes Lamar and that’s okay. I have a lot of receivers I like, but I like Jamo and we’re gonna have a lot of fun this year.”

Goff confirmed he started following free-agent receiver DeAndre Hopkins on social media, with no deeper meaning intended. These are the types of side stories that can become sideshows on a team gaining more and more attention. It takes strong leaders to protect the culture, and that’s what the Lions are developing.

More: Lions notes: Dan Campbell searching for fast start formula; kickers locked in battle

You can see differences even in minicamp. The influx of talented, talkative defensive backs such as Cam Sutton and C.J. Gardner-Johnson has livened drills. By most accounts, the defense has been giving the offense trouble.

“Yeah, it’s much stickier I feel this year, and whether that’s a product of new players or just having another year in the scheme,” Goff said. “But it’s been much stickier and harder for us to gain separation at this point.”

It’s noisy and active at practice, the fun days of June before the dog days of August. In the midst of it, Goff is like the history teacher in class, making sure lessons are learned. His demeanor doesn’t change much, his emotions mostly stay stowed. Ask him about any contract talks (his expires after next season), he brushes it off.

At a team photoshoot the other day, defensive backs Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph crashed Goff’s session and adorned him with sunglasses, gold chains and other bling while he laughed. I asked Goff if he’s revealing more of his personality as he gets more settled here, and he chuckled.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever fully reveal it to you guys. But Kerb and Trace told me to put this on, so I said, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ It was fun.”

When the real fun starts in a few months, Goff plans to be readier than ever, unbothered by the noise.


Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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