Dan Campbell

Lions Sign Hendon Hooker; QB Not Expected To Play In 2023

Along with the previously-reported deals for offensive lineman Colby Sorsdal and wide receiver Antoine Green, the Lions announced on Friday that they have signed quarterback Hendon Hooker to his four-year rookie contract.

The Tennessee alum was one of the wild cards in this year’s draft class, given his productive time with the Volunteers. An ACL tear which ended his final college season, along with his age (25) were factors which worked against him at the draft, and they led to his slide down the board to No. 68 overall. It was at that point in the third round that the Lions selected him, leading to questions about starter Jared Goff‘s long-term prospects with the franchise.

In the immediate future, however, the latter (who was made aware of the Hooker selection in advance) is secure atop the QB depth chart. Hooker’s recovery from the ACL injury, along with his acclimation to the pro game in general (something of particular importance given the unique Tennessee scheme he is coming from) is expected to keep him sidelined for the 2023 campaign despite positive reports on the former front.

“Really, this is a redshirt year for him,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Hooker on the Green Light with Chris Long podcast (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press). “He’s got to get this leg right first and then he’ll learn under Jared, and then let’s see what happens. If he can eventually become your two or maybe down the road, later on, it’s more than that, but it’s going to be a long time.”

Sitting out the first year of his rookie pact will make the age factor even more prominent in evaluations and expectations of Hooker, though Campbell recently stated that his age was not a detriment to the team’s willingness to draft him as a potential Goff successor. With the latter on the books for two more seasons, a patient approach could prove to be a fruitful one for Detroit.

The Lions are considering an extension for Goff, however, which could delay Hooker’s opportunity to ascend to the QB1 spot. Given the team’s success on offense in 2022 with Goff at the helm, a repeat performance this season could leave Detroit with an interesting decision to make under center with respect to their setup for 2024 and beyond. In any case, that season is the earliest in which appearances from Hooker can be expected.

Lions DL Levi Onwuzurike Facing Uncertain Future

The Lions took a risk when they drafted Levi Onwuzurike in 2021. The back issues the defensive lineman faced in college have remained at the NFL level, and they have put his playing future at risk.

Onwuzurike entered the league with plenty of promise and expectations as a second-round pick. He was able to play 16 games as a rookie, despite missed time in the summer due to chronic back ailments. The Washington product showed potential in a rotational role, totaling 35 tackles while adding one sack and two tackles for loss.

That could have provided a stepping stone to a larger workload in 2022, but Onwuzurike re-aggravated his existing issue during the first practice of the summer, resulting in an IR stint. By October, it had become clear that suiting up this season would not have been possible. As a result, he underwent surgery aimed at giving him the best chance possible of continuing his career in 2023 and beyond. When providing an update on his status, head coach Dan Campbell was unable to definitively point to a return at any time in the future.

“We just need to see how it is,” he said, via Kyle Meinke of mlive.com (subscription required). “We talked to him a couple of weeks ago, he was doing good. The rehab has gone well, but you just don’t know. You don’t know with a back. But I mean certainly, he’s going to get an opportunity if the body will allow it.”

Indeed, a path to significant playing time certainly exists for Onwuzurike. The 25-year-old has little in the way of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, especially since Detroit moved on from Michael Brockers earlier this offseason. The team’s other moves along the defensive interior have included re-signing Isaiah Buggs, Benito Jones and John Cominsky. An outside addition late in free agency and/or a notable investment in the draft would come as little surprise given the Lions’ situation at the position. Particularly if Onwuzurike isn’t able to practice and play on a consistent basis, such action may become necessary.

NFC Draft Notes: Lions, Bears, Falcons

As many as four quarterbacks could hear their names called within the top 10 picks in the 2023 draft, leaving many questions to be answered for teams in position to land a top signal-caller. The Lions hold the sixth selection, which could allow them to make an addition at the position.

That seems unlikely, given the presence of incumbent Jared Goff and the team’s needs at other areas, though. When speaking about the matter of quarterback evaluations, head coach Dan Campbell confirmed his approval of Goff, while leaving the door open to a rookie passer being added at some point.

“What we were hopeful and thought we were going to get [in Goff] is a guy who, man, he’s our guy,” Campbell said (video link via CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones). “He’s bought us time here. We believe we can win with Jared Goff. In the meantime, we also know he’s not going to be here for the next 10 years… It’s not like Jared Goff’s a rookie, so certainly our eyes are on, potentially a quarterback. And the question is, where do you acquire that at? And that’s something that [GM] Brad [Holmes] and I kick around all the time… We don’t feel like we’re pressed. But that doesn’t mean our eyes aren’t on a quarterback.”

Goff is under contract for two more years, but the Lions could move on from him after the 2023 season given the nature of his contract. The team has the 18th and 48th selections this year; the latter could be used on Tennessee product Hendon Hooker, who has a visit lined up with Detroit. How that process goes could determine the team’s willingness to use a high pick on a potential Goff successor.

Here are some other draft-related items from the NFC:

  • The Bears have, as expected, been active so far in free agency. Their spending to date has not, however, yielded an addition at offensive tackle. General manager Ryan Poles said (via The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain) Chicago will “keep an eye” on the remaining veteran options, a group which was thinned out considerably during the opening days of the new league year. Poles confirmed that the next move will likely come at the draft, where they hold pick No. 9. That spot could land them Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski or Ohio State alum Paris Johnson Jr., as they also look to find the best long-term position for 2022 fifth-rounder Braxton Jones. The latter played full-time on the blindside as a rookie, but could move to right tackle depending on how the first round plays out.
  • The offensive front is considered a strength for the Falcons, especially with right guard Chris Lindstrom in place on the largest contract in league history signed by an interior lineman. That has led many to expect Atlanta to look at other positions with the eighth overall pick, but NFL Network’s James Palmer notes the team is looking into o-line options with their top selection (video link). In particular, the Falcons could be eyeing Skoronski or Johnson on the inside to start their career, with the potential to take over from Jake Matthews at left tackle. The latter, 31, is on the books through 2026 but only has guaranteed money on his deal for two more seasons. A defensive addition would come as no surprise on Atlanta’s part, but they will have at least done their homework on the top lineman prospects.

Lions Not Considering DC Aaron Glenn Replacement

The Lions have shown a dramatic turnaround on offense this season, but their performance on the other side of the ball has led to them owning a 1-3 record. Defensive changes are coming, according to head coach Dan Campbell, but that will not include replacing defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn

Detroit leads the NFL in points and yards per game on offense one month into the 2022 campaign. However, they rank dead last defensively in both of those categories, as showcased most recently in Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks. In response, Campbell, Glenn and the rest of the team’s defensive staff are eyeing alterations to their personnel packages and scheme (Twitter link via team reporter Tim Twentyman).

One of those could involve more diversity in the ways rookie Aidan Hutchinson is deployed. This year’s No. 2 overall pick had a noteworthy second career game with three sacks, but has been held without one in the three other contests. He has six tackles for loss and eight QB pressures, but could be used in different alignments within the formation moving forward, Twentyman tweets.

Glenn, meanwhile, has been a rising name in the coaching ranks around the league. Detroit hired the former defensive back last season, amidst interest from several other teams. That was the case again this offseason, with the Saints eyeing a return to New Orleans for the 50-year-old to fill their head coaching vacancy representing one of many interviews he received. Despite his unit’s struggles early on, Campbell is backing Glenn to retain his position.

“I’ve had to do this before and I’m not afraid to make a hard decision,” Campbell said yesterday, via the Detroit Free Press“If I really believed that was the cause of it and I don’t believe it is. I believe that Aaron Glenn was the right man for the job and he gives us our best hope, our best option, to run this defense. I just do.”

The Lions will look to improve defensively against another 1-3 squad, the Patriots, in Week 5. New England is facing a number of questions at quarterback, so that game could represent a useful opportunity to begin a turnaround.

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured Head Coaches

The NFL experienced a busy offseason on the coaching front. A whopping 10 teams changed coaches during the 2022 offseason, with the Buccaneers’ late-March switch pushing the number into double digits.

Fourteen of the league’s 32 head coaches were hired in the past two offseasons, illustrating the increased pressure the NFL’s sideline leaders face in today’s game. Two of the coaches replaced this year left on their own. Sean Payton vacated his spot in second on the longest-tenured HCs list by stepping down from his 16-year Saints post in February, while Bruce Arians has repeatedly insisted his Bucs exit was about giving his defensive coordinator a chance with a strong roster and not a Tom Brady post-retirement power play.

While Bill Belichick has been the league’s longest-tenured HC for many years, Payton’s exit moved Mike Tomlin up to No. 2. Mike Zimmer‘s firing after nine seasons moved Frank Reich into the top 10. Reich’s HC opportunity only came about because Josh McDaniels spurned the Colts in 2018, but Indianapolis’ backup plan has led the team to two playoff brackets and has signed an extension. Reich’s seat is hotter in 2022, however, after a January collapse. Linked to numerous HC jobs over the past several offseasons, McDaniels finally took another swing after his Broncos tenure ended quickly.

As 2022’s training camps approach, here are the NFL’s longest-tenured HCs:

  1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
  2. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 27, 2007; extended through 2024
  3. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008; extended through 2025
  4. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks): January 9, 2010; extended through 2025
  5. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs): January 4, 2013; extended through 2025
  6. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills): January 11, 2017; extended through 2025
  7. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams): January 12, 2017; extended through 2023
  8. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers): February 6, 2017; extended through 2025
  9. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans): January 20, 2018; signed extension in February 2022
  10. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts): February 11, 2018; extended through 2026
  11. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2019; extended through 2027
  12. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers): January 8, 2019
  13. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals): February 4, 2019; extended through 2026
  14. Ron Rivera (Washington Football Team): January 1, 2020
  15. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers): January 7, 2020
  16. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys): January 7, 2020
  17. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns): January 13, 2020
  18. Robert Saleh (New York Jets): January 15, 2021
  19. Arthur Smith (Atlanta Falcons): January 15, 2021
  20. Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers): January 17, 2021
  21. Dan Campbell (Detroit Lions): January 20, 2021
  22. Nick Sirianni (Philadelphia Eagles): January 21, 2021
  23. Nathaniel Hackett (Denver Broncos): January 27, 2022
  24. Matt Eberflus (Chicago Bears): January 27, 2022
  25. Brian Daboll (New York Giants): January 28, 2022
  26. Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  27. Kevin O’Connell (Minnesota Vikings): February 2, 2022
  28. Doug Pederson (Jacksonville Jaguars): February 3, 2022
  29. Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins): February 6, 2022
  30. Dennis Allen (New Orleans Saints): February 7, 2022
  31. Lovie Smith (Houston Texans): February 7, 2022
  32. Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): March 30, 2022

Lions Unlikely To Decide On Play-Caller Until Regular Season Nears

While the Patriots have the runaway lead on offensive staff uncertainty this offseason, the Lions feature some as they go through OTAs.

Detroit moved to a new offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson, this year. It remains unknown if he will take over the team’s play-calling. Dan Campbell, who called Lions offensive plays down the stretch last season, said it is unlikely he will determine the team’s play-caller until the regular season nears, per the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers.

In his first months as the Lions’ full-time OC, Johnson has been calling plays during OTAs. That distinction obviously means considerably less than calling them during training camp or in the preseason. But that is how the Lions are proceeding as of early June. It is not a lock that is the direction they will go come September.

Look, I’m really not even worried about it right now,” Campbell said, via Rogers. “I just want to take it as it comes and see how [Johnson] goes with it and see how he handles running the offense, doing what I need to have done on my end and kind of my viewpoint and see how the quarterbacks are and just everything, and then go from there.

“I’m a gut guy, so I’m going to trust my gut to make that decision when the time’s right.”

Campbell relieved 2021 OC Anthony Lynn of play-calling duties midway through last season, taking on that responsibility himself for the final nine games. That was a noticeable undertaking for the first-year Lions coach, who had not been a coordinator in between his time as Dolphins interim HC (2015) and his Lions hire. During Campbell’s play-calling stint, the Lions scored at least 29 points four times; they did so only once in the eight games prior.

Johnson, 35, is a first-time coordinator who has never called plays at any level. A Matt Patricia-era holdover who began last season as Detroit’s tight ends coach, Johnson worked as the team’s passing-game coordinator to close last season.

More will be expected of the Lions’ offense this season. The team added D.J. Chark in free agency and traded up 20 spots for Jameson Williams, who should be ready to return from ACL surgery at some point during his rookie season. Those two will join emerging playmakers D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown in what will be Jared Goff‘s second go-round leading the offense. After Sean McVay worked as Goff’s play-caller throughout their four-year run together, the seventh-year quarterback could have three play-callers in two years to start his Lions tenure.

Latest On Jets’ Decision At No. 4 Overall

Possessing an opportunity to nab two instant starters in this draft, the Jets might not be in lockstep with their two top-10 picks. While the team’s wide receiver pursuit continues to be connected to the No. 10 choice, its No. 4 pick supplies more intrigue.

GM Joe Douglas “loves” North Carolina State tackle Ikem Ekwonu, according to SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano. Although Douglas could supersede any other staffer’s preference, Vacchiano’s mock draft features Robert Saleh winning a power struggle that concludes with defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on his way to the Big Apple.

The Jets’ Thibodeaux visit last week involved a grilling on the motivation and personality issues that have affected the Oregon product’s draft stock, Vacchiano adds, noting that the Jets were impressed with the polarizing pass rusher. The Lions have also been connected to Thibodeaux, but the issues that have dinged his stock may be too much for Dan Campbell. The second-year Lions coach is not believed to be high on Thibodeaux, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Gang Green would then be in position, should the Texans pass at No. 3, to stop a potential Thibodeaux freefall.

George Fant‘s emergence lessens the Jets’ O-line need, but Mekhi Becton‘s reliability nosedive has the 2020 first-round pick on unstable ground. The Jets are prepared to try Becton on the right side, and Vacchiano adds Ekwonu may not be a Day 1 starter if selected by the Jets. That would be unusual for a top-five pick and would depend on Becton’s readiness, but this overlap — despite the Jets’ interest in adding an impact tackle — could push the team to spend its top pick on another position.

This could certainly go the other way as well, which would have the Jets using three first-round picks on O-linemen in three years. Hearing Ekwonu connected to the Jets more than anyone else, Breer mocks the tackle to New York. Ekwonu played both tackle and guard with the Wolfpack; this could solve the positional overlap with Becton. Some teams view guard as Ekwonu’s best position, Breer adds.

Carl Lawson‘s ACL tear wounded the Jets’ pass rush before last season started, and Saleh’s first Jets defense ranked last. Although Lawson is set to return, the Jets still have a need on the edge. The team has famously struggled to address its edge position since 2006’s John Abraham trade. No Jet edge defender registered more than two sacks last season.

Kayvon Thibodeaux Still In The Mix For Lions’ No. 2 Pick

Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, once considered a surefire top-5 pick in this month’s draft, is reportedly in danger of falling out of the top-10. That is largely due to concerns not about his physical abilities, but about his effort and coachability. As Justin Rogers of the Detroit News writes, Thibodeaux said at this year’s scouting combine, “I tell a coach that there’s nothing he can tell me that I don’t already know, right? It’s because I’m honest with myself and I watch the tape. So if you’re a student of the game you know what you can get better at.”

However, the Lions could save Thibodeaux from his rumored tumble down draft boards. According to Rogers, Thibodeaux is still “very much in the conversation” for Detroit’s No. 2 overall pick.

The Lions have a clear need for a pass rusher, which is why they have been connected to Thibodeaux and Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson throughout the predraft process. Thibodeaux’s collegiate production — which includes three sacks in seven games in 2020 and seven sacks in 10 games in 2021 — has not been enough to offset the questions about his intangibles, but it should be noted that, last season, he posted those seven sacks and 12 total tackles for loss while playing through an ankle injury.

His size (6-5, 250), and impressive combine performance are further evidence of his high ceiling, and the Lions have thoroughly evaluated him. The club met with him at the combine, had GM Brad Holmes and others in attendance at his pro day, and will bring him in for a top-30 visit this week. Head coach Dan Campbell said of Thibodeaux, “[h]ey, listen, he’s an explosive athlete. He’s a playmaker. He’s got a good, quick first step. I mean, he’s something else. He’s pretty special on tape.”

The Lions are willing to trade down from the No. 2 pick, but if they keep it, Campbell is looking for a player who can contribute from Day 1 (in other words, probably not a QB prospect from a 2022 class whose shortcomings have been one of this year’s most-discussed draft topics). “That’s really what you’re trying to acquire, a guy that you can feel like can come in and he’s going to be able to have solid production for you,” Campbell recently said (via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press). “I mean, that’s kind of the idea. We need to feel like, all right, this guy comes in, it may take just a little bit, but you’d like to believe by the time you hit your first game that this player’s starting for you and is going to be able to produce.”

Though Campbell did not rule out the possibility of selecting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick if the team falls in love with a passer, he also suggested that having an elite QB is not necessarily a prerequisite for long-term success. When combined with his desire to nab an immediate contributor with his top draft choice, Campbell’s sentiments leave the door open for a Thibodeaux selection, though there are plenty of other non-quarterback prospects who figure to make an impact right away.

Coaching Notes: Broncos, Fangio, Jags, Lions

Ten candidates have emerged in the Broncos‘ coaching search. Despite the team going back-to-back with defensive coaches, Dan Quinn is believed to be one of the early frontrunners, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler (ESPN+ link). Despite being fired early in the 2020 season, the ex-Falcons HC has become a hot name in the 2022 interview cycle. The interest in Quinn puts him in position to be picky, as the current Cowboys DC has raised his stock after turning around the NFC East champions’ defense this season. He has yet to interview for the Broncos job yet. Quinn and Denver GM George Paton worked together in Miami under Nick Saban from 2005-06. Quinn, 51, was the Dolphins’ defensive line coach in those seasons. The Broncos have also done extensive work on Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett, Fowler adds. Both Hackett and Green Bay QBs coach Luke Getsy are on Denver’s HC interview list.

Here is the latest from the coaching ranks:

  • Bill O’Brien interestingly finds himself in the mix for NFL jobs on two tiers, with the Panthers eyeing him as an offensive coordinator and the Jaguars are set to interview him for their head coach job. O’Brien’s ignominious Texans exit notwithstanding, he has become a candidate to watch for the Jacksonville job, Fowler notes. O’Brien just finished his first season as Alabama’s OC.
  • Should O’Brien land the Jags gig, Vic Fangio will be a DC target, per Fowler. Given Fangio’s history of DC success, and the Broncos sporting an above-average unit during his tenure despite major injuries to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the recently fired coach will likely have a few options. The Jags are prepared to be patient this time around, with Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson noting this process could last for an additional two weeks (Twitter link). Second interviews are expected here. The Jaguars being thorough should not surprise, given their rash decision to hire Urban Meyer last January.
  • The Lions are considering hiring their next OC from within. After parting ways with one-and-done Anthony Lynn, Detroit is examining tight ends coach Ben Johnson for that role, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes. Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties from Lynn midseason, but Johnson’s responsibilities expanded as well. Johnson joined the Lions as a quality control coach in 2019. GM Brad Holmes is also leaving the door open to Campbell remaining the team’s play-caller.
  • Seahawks assistant head coach Clint Hurtt is on the University of Miami’s radar, with Fowler tweeting the Hurricanes are eyeing him for their defensive coordinator job. A Miami alum, Hurtt has spent the past five years as Pete Carroll’s defensive line coach.
  • Joe Judge‘s Giants staff will likely splinter soon. One of Big Blue’s position coaches, D-line coach Sean Spencer, will land on his feet. Duke is hiring Spencer to be a co-defensive coordinator, USA Today’s Josina Anderson tweets. Spencer was set to leave regardless of Judge’s status. Spencer’s pre-Giants coaching resume unfolded entirely at the college level. The 51-year-old assistant spent six years at Penn State prior to his short Giants stay under Judge.
  • Second-year Browns assistant Jeremy Garrett is expected to leave Cleveland and become the Liberty D-line coach, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman tweets.

Detroit, OC Lynn Part Ways

In one of the less surprising moves of “Black Monday,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell confirmed in his Monday morning press conference that offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn will not remain a part of the coaching staff in Detroit. 

Coming off being fired by the Chargers last season, Lynn took the role of play caller under first-year head coach Dan Campbell. After starting the season with eight straight losses, Campbell relieved Lynn of his play calling duties. The Lions proceeded to finish 3-3 over their last six games and it became apparent that Lynn was a lame duck in his position.

Lynn’s resume isn’t terrible as he left Los Angeles boasting a winning record as a head coach. In his first two seasons leading the Chargers, they finished 2nd in the division and even nabbed a Wild Card spot in his second year, winning a playoff game before getting beat in the Divisional Round. Lynn has had success in the league as a running backs coach and has strong leadership qualities that his players respect. He should find a job in the NFL again, before long.

As for the Lions open offensive coordinator position, Campbell will need to decided whether he would like to continue calling plays himself or if he wants to hire an offensive coordinator who can run the show. We’ll see that search play out as “Black Monday” continues to create new candidates for open jobs.