ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Taking over for one of the greatest quarterbacks in franchise history in Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff reported to Detroit Lions training camp with few expectations from the outside world.
Inside the Lions' training facility though, he’s starting to win teammates over -- even in the large shadow that Stafford left behind.
“I’m no quarterback expert by any means, but you hear about guys having good arms and then to actually see them throw it in person,” said Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker. “You see a guy throw a ball and he throws it well and you’re like ‘aw that’s what it’s supposed to look like’ and put it on a dime where it’s supposed to be.”
Taking over under center for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in three decades is much different than quarterbacking the star-studded Los Angeles Rams, who Goff led to an appearance in Super Bowl LIII.
It’s a new beginning. A fresh start.
“I think that transition kind of took place a while ago when I was first here in May. At this point, I feel at home. I feel good,” Goff said, referencing the change of teams and climates. “I feel great and I couldn’t be happier to be here obviously and I’m excited about what we can do. It’s fun for me to start a new challenge and be in a new environment.”
Although the 2020 season was a disaster for the Lions, who finished 5-11 and sported the NFL's worst defense, the overall vibe seems different under Campbell and his staff.
Both Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn consulted Goff while developing the new offense. One of Campbell’s early training camp observations about Goff was how much more comfortable he is and how much more ownership he has taken from the spring until now.
“He loves progressions. He loves progression reads,” Campbell said. “He loves throwing it downfield, he really does. A lot of that comes with run play pass, things of that nature.”
The offensive line is expected to be a strong spot for the Lions and is ahead of the other positional groups in its development, according to Campbell. Decker, a fellow 2016 NFL Draft classmate with Goff, continues to learn the quarterback's tendencies as well as the rest of the O-line group.
But the receiving corps remains relatively unknown, with Tyrell Williams, Kalif Raymond, Victor Bolden, Quintez Cephus, Damion Ratley, Breshad Perriman and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown all fighting to make some noise.
“I feel like we’re all pretty motivated. We know everybody is kind of counting us out,” Perriman said. “It’s a huge opportunity for everybody in the room. My focus is really on getting better every day and just doing our part and the rest will take care of itself.”
Goff could have a strong running game, with D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams both expected to get plenty of carries and catch balls out of the backfield, but the receivers remain a question mark. Coming off a Pro Bowl season, tight end T.J. Hockenson is also preparing for a bigger role and could very well be Goff’s go-to target, but insists the receivers “are doing a great job.”
“All those guys, I’ve seen a few routes where I’m like ‘dang, alright. I see that. I’m going to try to take that one,’” Hockenson said. “So, they’re showing some good stuff out there and we’re just trying to build on things every day.”
As a rookie, St. Brown has taken a serious approach, putting in extra work on the JUGs machine. After the first day of training camp, the USC product was one of the last to leave the field, catching more than 200 additional balls. Goff is molding him as a slot receiver -- the role in which Cooper Kupp thrived in Los Angeles. And St. Brown was one of the teammates to join him for workouts in California this offseason.
However, the fact remains, Cephus is the lone returning Lions receiver who had a catch for the team last season, while Perriman, Williams, Raymond, and Ratley combined for just 32 receptions and 552 yards in 2020. Williams, like most of the receiver room, enters Detroit with a point to prove after missing the entire 2020 season due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder and being released by the Las Vegas Raiders.
“I feel like I’ve kind of been overlooked my whole career. I came in undrafted so I kind of have that type of chip on my shoulder that I always play with,” said Williams. “It definitely fuels you to get the recognition that you feel like you deserve and stuff, but I feel like we have a great group of receivers especially.”
Though it’s early, Goff sees something he likes within the unproven receiving corps: a challenge.
“I think they’re gonna surprise a lot of people,” he said of the receivers. “They’ve been fun. They’ve been fun to play with.”
Thus far, California native Goff is enjoying the Midwest scene. He drew cheers at Comerica Park during a July 21 Tigers game, where the club gifted him with a personalized MLB jersey as a token of appreciation.
His next goal is to win over Lions fans at Ford Field, where Stafford’s legacy looms large.
“Sure, yeah. It’s always fun being the underdog going into the games, teams can take you lightly,” Goff said. “If that’s the case, we’re excited for it.”
Many of those diehard Lions fans have been in attendance at the practice facility for the open outdoor practices during training camp. Goff has high hopes in Motown.
“We have our internal expectations as well. For us, it’s the same as it’ll be for every other team,” Goff said. “It’s one team that’s happy at the end of the year and we want to be that one team. We want to of course, win the division first, and from there you got to the playoffs and win a championship. That’s always the expectation. That’s always the goal. I know that hasn’t happened here in a long time, but that’s our expectation.”