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5 big questions heading into Detroit Lions’ training camp

The Detroit Lions’ buzz is growing tremendously as training camp kicks off on Wednesday morning in Allen Park. Woodward Sports’ Detroit Lions beat writer details his five hot topics heading into the season.

Are you ready, Motown? Football is back, baby! And the Detroit Lions officially kick off the new regime on Wednesday morning. Everything the Lions’ front office has done so far is tremendous.

They’ve nailed it. 

From the front office overhaul to the type of players they’ve acquired, it’s impressive. And it’s a far cry away from the “same ole’ Lions” adage. With training camp ready to begin, here are the five biggest questions before the 2021 season starts.  

1 . Is Dan Campbell the right coach for the Detroit Lions?

Dan Campbell’s name, to date, is now synonymous nationally with kneecaps and race car helmets. It’s unfortunate because there’s much more to him.

Proof of that is his Lions introductory press conference. He didn’t speak about how badly he wanted to be an NFL head coach. Instead, he said how badly he wanted to coach the Detroit Lions, specifically. Campbell told his agent to do whatever it took to get him in front of Lions principal owner Sheila Ford-Hamp. 

That’s a big deal. 

Now let’s be authentic here. Campbell’s time as an interim coach in 2015 with the Miami Dolphins was ok, at best. After taking over for the fired Joe Philbin, Campbell coached the Fins’ to a 5-7 finish. While they achieve much, there is visual evidence that, if anything, Campbell is a leader of men. Also, being fair to him, his roster left a lot to be desired. 

Despite the results in Miami, Campbell has come to Detroit and assemble quite the coaching staff. Duce Staley, Anthony Lynn, Aaron Glenn, Aubrey Pleasant, Dom Capers, and Antwaan Randle-El are all household names. 

Staley and Lynn are have earned a reputation around the NFL for developing running backs. Glenn receives praise from around the league for his work with Saints’ defensive back Marshon Lattimore. Randle-El is fresh off winning a Super Bowl as an offensive assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The accolades of this staff are endless. 

With tons of “X’s and O’s” experience surrounding Campbell, he could wind up as the coach the Lions need for the franchise’s transition.

And with him being a former Lions’ player is a crucial factor, too. He understands this organization and what it would mean to deliver a winner to Detroit. 

2 . Can Jared Goff resurrect his career in Detroit?

Jared Goff is only 26 years old. And he’s already a two-time Pro Bowler and led a team to the Super Bowl.

That is foreign to the Detroit Lions to have someone so young, with that experience, under center. The LA Rams sent Goff, and several draft picks to Detroit for Matthew Stafford several months ago in a trade that’s put a chip on Goff’s shoulder.

He’s looking to win. He’s looking to show the Rams what they lost. 

And more importantly, he wants to do it with the Detroit Lions. 

Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions’ quarterback Tim Boyle and Jared Goff at organized team activities. Photo credit: Kory Woods

Reunited with Brad Holmes, the general manager who scouted him for the Rams, Goff has a unique opportunity in Detroit. With the Lions looking to rebuild, he could become the face of this franchise and potentially earn a long-term deal if he excels. 

Goff has his work cut out for him, though. While he has a promising backfield with D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, there are questions at the wideout.

Will Tyrell Williams be healthy? What should fans expect from Quintez Cephus? Is Amon-Ra St. Brown ready to be an immediate contributor?

Only time will tell. 

Luckily, Goff has T.J. Hockenson, a player that analysts regard as a top-five tight end. Jared Goff could turn heads in Detroit if the chemistry they’ve developed in OTA’s, and minicamp carries over into training camp and beyond. 

3 . Who will be the feature running back for the Lions?

Reggie Bush was the last Detroit Lions’ running back to have a 1,000 yard rushing season. With Anthony Lynn in town as offensive coordinator, expect that to change. As mentioned, he and assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley are excellent at developing running backs.

Detroit Lions assistant head coach Duce Staley
Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift (32) and assistant coach Duce Staley during organized team activities at Lions headquarters in Allen Park, Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Despite that, one question looming over Detroit is who will be the starting running back. Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift showcased traits worthy of being the Lions’ feature back during OTAs and minicamp. 

However, there were times it appeared Williams received extra love and praise. That could all change during training camp. Regardless of what happens, the Lions should significantly produce a better rushing attack than last season.

4 . Who will be the top rookie performer this season?

Landing Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick in the draft this year was huge. Many NFL draft experts and analysts tout him to be a generational talent. And if he is, everyone on the Lions’ offense will benefit. 

Despite his potential, Sewell’s skill and production won’t necessarily show up in post-game stats. However, there is one guy who has the potential to be the Lions’ “Justin Jefferson,” and that’s Amon-Ra. St. Brown.

St. Brown’s 2021 draft projection had him as a second or third-round selection. The Lions were able to steal him in the fourth round. And because of how far he slipped, St. Brown has a chip on his shoulder.

Although he’s 5’11, he’s a violent receiver for his size. He pairs his physicality with a knack for grabbing 50-50 balls. As mentioned, the Lions have questions to address at wideout. With a great showing in training camp, he could compete for a starting position. 

At the very least, he’ll be the Lions’ No. 3 option, which could prove to be deadly. 

5 . How will Jeff Okudah perform this season? 

No disrespect to Jeff Okudah, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll have a worse year than his rookie season. Okudah’s PFF grade was 42.5 last year. That ranked him 125th out of 136 qualifying cornerbacks. Additionally, PFF stated he allowed a passer rating of 112.0.

Uhh, yikes. 

Luckily for Okudah, the Lions hired Aaron Glenn as the defensive coordinator. And as mentioned, Glenn earned praise around the league for his work with Marshon Lattimore. Okudah has already stated his affinity for Glenn’s coaching. And at OTAs and minicamps, Okudah was one of the most vocal players during 7-on-7 drills. He yelled continuously at the defense, in a constructive way, pointing out things he saw.

Things could be looking up for Okudah this year. 

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