The Detroit Lions had a bumpy 2021 season that didn’t end the way anyone would like, but other than that, the team still had enough positives that a bright future is assumed.
General Manager Brad Holmes has had a front row seat to the inner workings of the team all season, giving him a better idea of where the team is right now than most. Holmes may not have been happy with the end result, but he was very happy with some of the themes the team showed at various points last year.
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In particular, Holmes appreciated what Dan Campbell brought to the mix in Detroit. As he explained, he joined it Rich Iron Show, Campbell has the kind of attitude that draws players in and makes them want to stand out on the field. This resulted in the team staying tough and fighting even when the season was completely lost in December and January.
“That’s the great thing about Dan (Campbell). I’ve been saying from day one there’s just some elite qualities that you have as a head coach and that’s one of those in terms of players who believe, buy players and really, really want to play for him and are ready to go through to walk a wall for him,” Holmes said to Eisen. “I’ve always said if you go back and look at our week 16 and 17 training sessions you see a young squad but even the experienced players on our squad come late in the season into training and the energy. We didn’t play for anything. It was amazing, and then you really know, okay, you’re cooking on some gas now because you know you’ve got a guy like Dan that these players love. They believe in (him). He’s so authentic in everything he does and it matches the games. Yes, we had those (Eagles loss) and you could even leave when we played Cincinnati at home. That being said, I thought we kind of marginalized everyone and gave them a game. We want to lay the foundation for what we are all about as a team and the culture. We want to be a brave group. I think we’ve laid that foundation. Then we simply have to keep making our contribution and ensure that the culture is right. We have to keep adding pieces and improving our roster and just controlling what we can control.
That’s a great love not only for Campbell’s approach, but also for the players on the team. Previous Lions teams have been accused of retiring at the end of the year, but that was certainly not the case with the 2021 team. Detroit ended with a couple of late upset wins over Arizona and Green Bay and impressed by staying together against the odds.
Combined with some additions for 2022, there’s optimism the Lions have found a way to turn the corner. If that’s the case, Campbell’s never-ending attitude and the way the team is responding show things are headed in the right direction for the future.
Campbell set the tone early on, promising a tough roster that would scrape and scrape in every game, and little by little he fulfilled his promise as the season progressed. The Lions were one of the toughest teams in the league during the 2021 season, even if it didn’t result in instant wins. Detroit was in almost every game played and never backed down. They managed to do this despite losing several players to injuries and outbreaks of illness towards the end of the season. With that in mind, it seems like a small miracle that the Lions defeated Minnesota and Arizona, two teams that were in the playoff races, and Pittsburgh, a team that ended in the AFC postseason. In the end, it was an obvious testament to the harshness Campbell preached on his first day.
Offensively and defensively there is still a lot to do with the roster in terms of improvement and depth, but Campbell has done a good job of managing things overall. He was an aggressive fourth-place coach and seems to be an innovator in terms of decision-making in those moments. Campbell also rolled appropriately with a variety of fake punts and onside kicks and showed his energetic side. When he took over play calling, the offense seemed to improve noticeably.
Overall, the arrow is still pointing firmly up for Campbell, and the sky is therefore still the limit for the lions.
Detroit had a solid offseason, keeping many of its best free agents in-house like safety Tracy Walker, edge rusher Charles Harris, and wideout Josh Reynolds, while having some top options in wideout DJ Chark, safety DeShon Elliott, and linebacker Chris outside the market put on plank. The 2022 draft was impressive in that it offered plenty of reinforcements to the team’s defense with brave players who greatly suited their culture and mindset. When you add it up, it seems like the Lions are in good shape combined with Campbell’s mindset and approach to the roster.
If Holmes liked what he saw in 2021, maybe he’ll love what he sees in 2022 when the Lions can eclipse their modest 3-13-1 record and show further improvements. Given how they’ve struggled all season, that might be a reasonable expectation.
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