Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell met with reporters today to address this week's roster shuffling and the upcoming season. Here are 10 quick thoughts from their 32-minute session:
1. Holmes and Campbell seem genuinely confident in the roster they've assembled, to the point that — for the duration of their news conference, at least — I had to re-evaluate my assessment that the Lions have one of the weakest all-around rosters in the NFL.
Both Holmes and Campbell noted that the Lions' strengths are in the trenches, which seems pretty obvious.
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On offense, the Lions have the makings of a really good line, though rookie right tackle Penei Sewell has plenty of growing to do. On defense, the line presented the Lions with some of the toughest roster cuts. They have six legitimate contributing-caliber linemen in starters Alim McNeill, Michael Brockers and Nick Williams, and backups Levi Onwuzurike, Kevin Strong and John Penisini (plus the injured Da'Shawn Hand). Throw in a couple solid edge rushers in outside linebackers Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers, and the Lions seem to have their best pass rush group since maybe the Ndamukong Suh years.
I still see plenty of weaknesses in the passing game, have questions about the back seven and believe depth will be a major issue. But the B.S. detector didn't go off when Holmes and Campbell gushed about their roster. They legitimately like what they've built, even if they know there are holes to overcome.
2. Holmes wasn't as forthcoming about those holes. Asked what area of the roster concerns him most, he said, "We'll see Week 1."
3. One quote in particular about the defensive front stood out. From Holmes: "Our defensive line, we got some dogs up there, up front. ... Those guys when we added them when we first came in, there was some question marks. We didn’t know. So now, obviously Romeo (Okwara), we know what Romeo is, but even Romeo looks even better this year. Charles Harris, when we signed in free agency, watching him practice today, he’s got better and I’m not sure if it’s the scheme but I do think it’s the coaching staff."
4. The Lions are putting a lot on the coaching staff with how young the roster is. By now you know how well-regarded secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant is, but he will have his hands full with one of the youngest secondaries in the NFL this fall.
The Lions' six cornerbacks include two first-year undrafted rookies (A.J. Parker and Jerry Jacobs), a rookie third-round pick (Ifeatu Melifonwu), two second-year players (Jeff Okudah and Bobby Price, who converted to cornerback from safety this summer) and a third-year guy in Amani Oruwariye.
"I’ve always said that AP is one of, if not the best DB coach that I’ve been around," Pleasant said. "He’s extremely impressive in the way that he teaches it in a very digestible manner that allows players to learn quickly and play fast. And the energy that he brings to that group, it correlates and it resonates with the players. He just relates to players, both on the field and in the classroom."
5. Director of pro scouting Rob Lohman drove the train on Monday night's trade for Denver Broncos receiver Trinity Benson, but Holmes said there was buy-in across the board.
"It was (receivers coach Antwaan) Randle El saying, 'Yes, he’s the top guy.' It’s Dan looking at him and saying, 'Oh yeah, I really love this Benson.' It’s a collaborative effort," Holmes said. "So it’s total buy-in to make you feel really, really good about it and say, 'Hey look, maybe you can just sit back and wait and put in a claim and see if you get lucky,' but, no, we felt confident enough to say, 'Look, let’s just go ahead and see if we can make something happen and go get him.' "
6. The Lions gave up a fifth-round pick and a conditional seventh-rounder this fall for Benson and a 2023 sixth-round pick. I was asked this question on Twitter, so I posed it to Holmes on Thursday: The Broncos claimed cornerback Mike Ford off waivers, so why not include Ford in the trade to lessen the draft pick compensation the Lions had to give up?
"Mike Ford, he never came into the discussion or conversations in our negotiations, so it was — we threw out a player here or there, but (Broncos GM) George (Paton) never asked me about Mike Ford and I never offered," Holmes said.
That seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, though the Lions waived Ford early Monday, perhaps before trade discussions for Benson picked up.
Fifth-round picks aren't nothing, but I agree that it's more important to get your player than preserve a Day 3 draft pick.
7. I'll write more about this shortly, but Holmes defended his unorthodox decision to keep seven receivers on the 53-man roster, saying he tried to compile "the best 53 football players, regardless of" position.
"We’re not going to eliminate a good football player because it’s an overkill at a position," he said. "So when you look down and you get to Tyrell (Williams) and Kalif (Raymond) and (Amon-Ra) St. Brown, and then you get to (Quintez) Cephus, then you get to Tom Kennedy, and it’s like, 'Well, Tom Kennedy, he’s had a hell of a camp.' It’s not like, ‘Oh, we get to Tom Kennedy. Well, you can’t keep him because now you’re at five and six.’ No, Tom Kennedy, earned it. He had a great camp."
Kennedy did have a good camp, but keeping seven receivers seems like a luxury that is not sustainable. Two or three receivers play at a time, and another one or two are active for special teams. This year's gameday roster rules (which allow practice squad players to be elevated and play in games) make it more palatable to keep an extra receiver like Kennedy (plus Benson and wavier claim KhaDarel Hodge), but that seems like a short-term play.
8. Holmes downplayed any concerns about Sewell's slow start to camp. The No. 7 overall pick in April's draft, Sewell's talent has been obvious at times, but he has struggled in preseason games against the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts.
"I believe that he will be ready for Week 1 and I think he’s ready now," Holmes said. "Yeah, I mean, he’s going through the normal process that a rookie would go through, regardless of where he’s drafted. That’s a tough position to play out there on that island and he’s sat out for a year. So what he’s done, and I know it’s magnified by what may be a hiccup here or there, but there’s so much of the good stuff that maybe kind of hidden when you really kind of deep dive the film, little subtle nuances that is going to make a big difference."
9. Another player who has not gotten much ink this preseason who Campbell singled out as having an especially good camp is third-year safety Will Harris.
Harris has been extremely inconsistent the past two seasons, but he seems more comfortable in the Lions' new defensive scheme.
"Look, it is a young secondary, but those corners are coming along pretty good and Will Harris and Tracy, they’ve had pretty good camps now," Campbell said. "And Will has grown — Will and Amani may have had two of the best camps of anybody on our roster, as a matter of fact."
10. Holmes said the Lions have the goods on offense to get a fair evaluation on quarterback Jared Goff this fall.
Goff may be a bridge quarterback, or he may be something more. If the Lions are picking high in next year's draft, it will be tough to pass on a quarterback. But if Goff has a strong season, it's possible he is the team's quarterback going forward.
"I do think that Jared, that you can fairly evaluate him because he’s throwing to some guys that are getting open, that are creating separation, that have explosiveness, that are making tough catches, that are being where they’re supposed to be," Holmes said. "So Jared is a very accurate quarterback and he has receivers that are getting open, and at the end of the day, that’s what a receiver’s job to do is to get open and catch the football. So I think it’s been easy to evaluate Jared."
We'll remember that come spring.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes discusses roster: 10 thoughts