MOBILE, Ala. -- As members of the Detroit Lions coaching staff exited the locker room of Hancock Whitney Stadium on Saturday, Jim Nagy followed behind to survey the area on their way out.
The outcome of the 2022 Senior Bowl game didn’t matter, but Nagy, the executive director, hopes head coach Dan Campbell and his staff left with some tools to help turn the Lions franchise around following a 3-13-1 season.
“I just hope they found their kinds of guys. They were working with them all week. They were in the meeting rooms. They were at breakfast, lunch, dinner every day,” Nagy said. “You just look at the kind of guys Dan Campbell’s looking for -- competitive guys that love football -- and there was a lot of those guys down here this week on both teams. It’s not just the guys they coached all week. I hope they walked away with a bunch of guys that can help them build that thing.”
After a week coaching the American Team, the Lions were given unique access to some of the best talent in college football.
Although Campbell served as an advisor, members of his staff benefitted from elevated roles for development opportunities, which included running backs coach Duce Staley serving as head coach, defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant as defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Ben Johnson as offensive coordinator.
“This is a critical phase in our process. It’s all a puzzle that you want to put together by April. It just so happens that this piece of the puzzle has a little more oomph because of the opportunity that we have coaching the game,” said Lions general manager Brad Holmes. “So, it’s a little more firepower, but having success just getting all of our questions answered, and we might not get every question answered, but it’s just a great start, both on the field from a tangible standpoint, from a player development standpoint, but obviously, No. 1, evaluations.”
Detroit owns two first-round picks, including the No. 2 overall selection, in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Senior Bowl experience was invaluable for the organization, who is working hard to make it count.
“Two things: You get hands on experience with the young men, not only in the classroom but you also get the hands on experience on the football field and that’s priceless. That’s deeper than any evaluation, that’s deeper than any scout could be able to tell you because you’re able to get it for your own personal experience,” Pleasant told ESPN.
“I think for where we are and where we want to go, I do think this draft is pivotal.”
While Campbell let his staff run the show, he admitted that it was hard not to jump in at times. As Staley ran the whole show for the week, he got a glimpse of what Campbell does on a daily basis and it gave him a deeper appreciation for being a head coach.
Now, he wants to continue to take reasonable steps to make sure he contributes to Detroit getting the right picks.
“Of course you want to get the right guy, but I don’t think that adds pressure,” Staley said of his Senior Bowl experience. “I just think we’re professionals, we know how to do our job and we’re gonna do it right. Just being down here gets us better. It puts us ahead of the curve in my opinion. You’ve got to remember that our staff is a first-year staff. We hadn’t been around for like three or four years like a lot of these staffs. So, getting these guys back on the field, coaching and being around each other is always good.”
For the Lions, it was a balancing act. On one hand, they were coaching. But then afterward, they were evaluating talent.
Still, they hope they’re not in this position again.
“I don’t want this to be misinterpreted, so I’m going to make this really clear what I’m about to say. I thoroughly enjoy being here and getting this experience, but I’m glad I got it out the way my first year because I never plan on being back here coaching these teams,” said Kelvin Sheppard, Lions outside linebackers coach.
“So, let me get that out the way and I say that sincerely because you have to be at a certain position, in certain draft order to be here as a coach and it’s something I never plan on doing never again. So, now that that’s out the way, it is a great experience getting hands-on, being able to coach these guys and really seeing what makes them tick. Seeing who can soak in things.”