Dan Campbell confident Aidan Hutchinson will continue to grow


You can trace the recent success of the Lions by studying the statistical surge of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

The former Michigan star and No. 2 pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, is becoming one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL. As a rookie, he notched 9.5 sacks as the Lions nearly became a playoff team. Then last season, Detroit pushed itself almost to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, Hutchinson earned his first Pro Bowl berth.

Lions coach Dan Campbell expects more improvement.

“Look Hutch is going to continue to continue to improve,” Campbell told reporters as the Lions were going through spring practices. “Whether those come in sacks or not, I already know he is going to be better. You know what I mean? That’s just the way he is. That’s the way it works. It’s like Saint [2023 first-team All-Pro WR Amon-Ra St. Brown]: you’re going to be able to count on the production he [Hutchinson] is going to bring.”

Hutchinson picked up 11.5 sacks last season, with 33 quarterback pressures. He more than doubled the total of quarterback pressures (15) from his rookie season.

But there is a Lions conundrum on defense. As good as Hutchinson was last season, Detroit wasn’t great at getting sacks. They could pressure the quarterback, but the Lions defense had difficulty converting the hurries into sacks. The Lions notched 41 sacks last season. That was only 23rd best in the NFL. Yet they generated 274 hurries, which ranked third highest in the league.

“Sacks aren’t that big of a deal as long you’re getting the pressures,” Campbell told reporters. “As long as you’re getting pressures, and those pressures show up and affect the quarterback negatively, you know? Now would you rather have sacks? Absolutely, I would rather have sacks. The loss of yardage, all of those things, but the pressures … a pressure that affects the quarterback. … We watched a couple clips … in front of the team. Quarterback is wanting to step up. He can’t step up, the throw is high. He’s flipping to his right, and he can’t get his hips around. Throw a pick. These things that end up in negative plays as incomplete, as turnovers, whatever, I’ll take those all day long.”

But to help out the pass rush, the Lions drafted two talented cornerbacks. Detroit picked Alabama’s Terrion Arnold in the first round, then followed with Missouri’s  Ennis Rakestraw Jr. in the second.

Then the Lions addressed more needs in free agency. They signed tackle D.J. Reader from the Bengals. And they added end Marcus Davenport from the Saints. Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn know Davenport well. Both were on staff in New Orleans when the Saints traded up to get Davenport with the 14th pick of the 2018 draft.

Hutchinson will benefit.

“That will always help,” Campbell said. “It helps if you’ve got somebody else that can kind of push them [the quarterback], to you.”

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