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Experiencing Detroit Lions OTAs for the first time
The Detroit Lions have never been a great team.
Whether you’re a Lions fan, a Detroiter, an avid football fan, or a person that’s just alive, this isn’t a secret. In the modern era, the Lions have been the league’s laughingstock. From their playoff woes to the winless season, saying this team is allergic to success is an understatement.
And let’s not forget the last three years. They’re the cherry on the sundae of this notion because you can’t talk about Lions misery without mentioning the Bob Quinn-Matt Patricia era. It left a stench in the city of Detroit that I thought still lingered.
Then last week happened.
Last Thursday, the Detroit Lions opened their voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) to the media, allowing me the opportunity to cover OTAs for the first time. Although I have covered the Lions for the past three, going on four seasons, I never covered this. I was all set to cover it last season, but this weird thing called the coronavirus took the world by storm, limiting my in-person access until the season’s end.
I didn’t know what to expect once I arrived at Lions HQ in Allen Park last week. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
After all of the media members arrived at the practice facility at the designated time, Lions officials greeted and escorted the media to the practice field. As we all walked through the gates, TI’s “Bring Em Out” blasted through several huge Klipsch speakers.
One seasoned media member said, “Holy crap, we get entrance music?” When he said that, I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one thinking it.
Also, when he said that, that let me know one thing. It’s something that Lions players discussed later that day in the post-OTA presser. And that’s the culture shift that owner Sheila Ford-Hamp is spearheading is not for show.
Again, I don’t know the usual vibe and protocol for a Detroit Lions OTA. Despite that, I can observe body language. I can watch facial expressions. And above all, I can tell who’s happy to be there.
Now let’s be realistic. I couldn’t read the room (or the field in this case) of every player out there. Still, I can remember the faces of the players I did see.
There were members of the Lions’ secondary dancing while the music blasted and engaged in their drills. Jeff Okudah stood out during all of this. He seemingly was going over techniques with Mike Ford and Tracy Walker, being very vocal and presumably pointing out things he saw.
Then on the other side of the field, quarterback coach Mark Brunell was loud and intense. As Jared Goff and Tim Boyle were going through a series of drills, Brunell was screaming at both of them. And after observing that exchange, I noticed three things:
I saw that Brunell was constructive, not deconstructive, in his criticisms and demands from the quarterbacks.
Probably the most important, I saw the quarterbacks responded, especially Goff. Brunell applauded them both.
I witnessed Goff’s focus. He hung on every word that came out of Brunell’s mouth.
Additionally, Goff backed up comments made by Dan Campbell earlier that day. And that’s how pretty of a ball that Goff can throw. Even though it was voluntary OTAs, Goff was slinging it.
The atmosphere on that field was incredible.
I witnessed a bunch of guys having a great time enjoying the game they love. Penei Sewell’s determination was on display. Levi Onwuzurike was all smiles in every drill. Even Ford-Hamp and Detroit Lions team president Rod Wood were out there observing the activities. And lastly, you saw one towering figure in all black, standing in the middle of the field. He had the look of a guy who wanted to suit up.
Campbell was the star of it all. It’s hard to explain, but if you saw him out there, you felt his presence. It was like the late Charlie Murphy talking about his encounter with Rick James.
You felt Campbell’s aura. It was unmistakable.
Overall, my first Detroit Lions OTAs was an entertaining experience. However, my favorite moment that day was one reporter rapping “Rover 2.0” by Blackboy JB and 21 Savage. I won’t say his name, but he shocked me. In the words of the great Soulja Boy, he knew that whole flow word for word, bar for bar.
From Lions officials to the players to the media members, everyone was happy to be there. Hopefully, that day was a sign of great things to come.