Allen Park — The Lions keep acting like a contender. Case in point, they finally added an experienced backup quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, the most important insurance policy an NFL team can purchase.
The Lions keep looking like a contender. Case in point, Dan Campbell talked about the state of his offense Tuesday and said, “In a three-year period, this is the best we’ve felt about this roster … We have the most game-ready (players), I would say.”
The Lions keep sounding like a contender. Case in point, Jared Goff said, “We’re certainly much further along. If last year was (Level) 101, we’re in 201 now.”
And yes, the Lions keep showing they could play like a contender, piece by piece, practice by practice. No one was keeping score during the Lions-Giants joint practice Tuesday, and no one should be fooled by training camp flashes. But another overflow crowd at the Lions facility was voting with its voices, roaring when rookie Jahmyr Gibbs took a short pass from Goff and scooted past Giants linebacker Bobby Okereke to score easily.
I refuse to dissect every training-camp drill, but here’s my expert analysis: When the Lions’ first-string offense went against the Giants’ first-string defense, the ball ended up in the end zone way more often than not. Goff was sharp. The new running back duo of Gibbs and David Montgomery made defenders miss. Amon-Ra St. Brown remained machine-like, catching anything within a three-foot radius of his body. Marvin Jones Jr. made several contested grabs. Rookie tight end Sam LaPorta kept getting open in the seams.
All those pass-catchers will be needed because Jameson Williams is suspended the first six games, which makes these practices vital for him. He didn’t have a big impact in the downfield game Tuesday, but made a couple of nice catches. Perhaps more telling, Williams worked with receivers coach Antwaan Randle El for about 15 minutes before practice, catching miniature footballs fired at a rapid pace.
Goff ready to go
The Lions and Giants practice again Wednesday, then play their preseason opener at Ford Field on Friday night. In many ways, the practices can be more important than the preseason game, when few starters are expected to play. Goff probably will sit and let Bridgewater re-wet his feet starting next week, because Campbell has seen enough to know Goff is primed.
“I feel like he’s right where he needs to be,” Campbell said of Goff. “He’s in a good place, he’s making big throws, I feel like he’s on top of the protection. I mean there’s nothing that would tell me he’s not gonna have another good year for us.”
It might be difficult for Goff to match the ridiculous accuracy he showed finishing 2022 with an interception-less streak of 324 passes. But it’s not a stretch to say Goff is poised to take another leadership leap, and looks as confident as ever.
Although he doesn’t know Bridgewater personally, he said he’s heard great things about the 30-year-old veteran. Bridgewater has previously played for five teams, and was 5-0 in relief of Drew Brees in 2019 with the Saints, when Campbell was an assistant there.
You can tell the Lions are figuring things out when they recognize no-brainers — and signing Bridgewater, the best free-agent backup remaining, was a no-brainer. With Ben Johnson’s ever-expanding offense and Gibbs’ ever-expanding role, Goff’s ever-expanding confidence resonates more and more.
He quipped the other day on the “Pardon My Take” podcast that the Detroit media “have an easy time writing bad things.” He downplayed it Tuesday, but admitted he enjoys a big healthy chip as much as the next heavily scrutinized quarterback.
“You always want to find that edge someway somehow,” Goff said. “That’s a smaller edge for me. I think I’ve gotten more personal ones that internally fire me up, but yeah it’s always good to have the little chip on your shoulder that you want to prove people wrong.”
Asked if he felt he didn’t get the respect he deserves, Goff shrugged.
“Don’t care,” he said. “Don’t even know if I do or not. Try to win games for this team. That’s all.”
Bridgewater is coming in to supplant Nate Sudfeld as the backup, not to challenge Goff. “We just need to see if (Bridgewater) still has it, that’s all,” Campbell said. The hope is, he still has it but won’t need to show it, as long as Goff stays healthy.
Plug and play
If we’ve learned anything so far in camp — and I think we have — it’s that Brad Holmes did indeed draft plug-and-play rookies, from Gibbs to LaPorta to linebacker Jack Campbell, even potentially to third-round defensive lineman Brodric Martin. There have been no stunning revelations, another sign of steady progress. The overhauled secondary has been as sticky and animated as advertised, and by all accounts, the Lions defense sufficiently harassed Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
Veteran linebacker Alex Anzalone joked he was just glad to face a different opponent after a few weeks of chasing down the Lions’ speedsters.
““Not having to cover (Jahmyr) Gibbs out of the backfield was nice,” Anzalone said. “Once he gets away from you and gets separation, it’s tough to recover.”
Talking like a contender is not the same as acting like a contender, and the Lions recognize that. There’s no assurance they’ll be as good as forecast, but there is insurance. The Lions purchased the Bridgewater policy to protect against flooding and injury, and you can argue their offense now is as complete as ever. The offensive line should be a significant strength, as long as it remains healthy and Frank Ragnow’s injured toe behaves itself.
It’ll get super serious here soon, with the opener at Kansas City a month away. Maybe that’s why Campbell began his early-morning press conference practically out of breath, as if he’d just run around the building twice, stopping only to swig a gallon of coffee.
“I can’t wait, man,” Campbell said. “If you have a competitive nature about you, this is as good as it gets. I’m pretty fired up right now.”
No one’s manufacturing energy or excitement around here these days, not necessary, not with this offense. The Lions have plenty of polishable pieces, including a rambunctious rookie runner and a quarterback who knows himself and his status better than ever.