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The Detroit Lions’ ‘shorthanded’ coaching staff at the Senior Bowl is no big deal

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The Lions may not have made all their coaching hires, but that shouldn’t bother you.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Initially, it looked like the Detroit Lions were going to have their full coaching staff in place by the time they flew down to Alabama for this week’s Senior Bowl. However, that has turned out to not be the case, as the Lions have yet to officially designate a new tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs coach.

Detroit is currently coaching the North squad at the Senior Bowl, so many wondered if this was a big misstep by the Lions coaching staff. After all, assuming the Lions hire a few new faces before the 2020 season, it would obviously be more beneficial—no matter how small—to have them there in Mobile.

But after just one day of practice, it’s now obvious that this is a complete non-issue and fans shouldn’t be concerned about it in the slightest. Let me explain.

The Lions have plenty of staff there

If there was any concern that Detroit would be too shorthanded to properly run drills at the Senior Bowl, those were quickly put to bed on Tuesday. Take, for example, this snippet from Chris Burke’s piece on practice from The Athletic:

“there are close to 20 coaches on hand and probably two dozen others from within the organization”

These aren’t just interim guys, these are people who will be part of the organization for the entire season (with the one exception being former offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who is stepping down this year, but is down in Mobile helping the team out). These are coaches who will be in the draft war room, coaches who will help with scouting reports and personnel decisions down the line.

And for some of these coaches, it’s an opportunity to take on a new role...

Certain Lions staff members are stepping up and growing as coaches

There were a few interesting notes from the Lions media after Tuesday’s practice. First, as we noted in the Day 1 recap, there was the pseudo-promotion of current Lions director of football research David Corrao.

Burke noted that Corrao was taking a very hands-on approach with just about everyone on defense, from the edge rushers to linebackers to the defensive backs. Corrao is a former defensive coordinator and assistant linebackers coach, and this week could be somewhat of an audition for him to take over a bigger role on the coaching staff.

Burke also noted Lions defensive assistant Steve Gregory working with defensive backs on drills, but Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press made a much more significant claim this week.

(emphasis is mine)

“The Lions still have three position coach vacancies remaining on their staff, at tight ends, linebacker and defensive backs, though defensive assistant Steve Gregory is expected to take over as secondary coach,” Birkett wrote on Tuesday.

If that’s the case, that’s one less vacancy than previously thought.

If the Lions are ever going to build a coaching staff that comes together, they’ll need to be able to develop coaching talent from within. We see the New England Patriots survive year after year despite getting their coaches poached from other teams. How do they do it? By promoting from within.

This week, the Lions have the opportunity to advance some of the coaches within their system, and Matt Patricia knows the value of that.

“Some guys will have the opportunity to coach this week, which will be great for them to get better as coaches, especially young coaches that we want to develop,” Patricia said this week.

The Lions aren’t teaching scheme at the Senior Bowl

If the Lions were developing and teaching scheme at the Senior Bowl, it would obviously make sense to have as much of the coaching staff together as possible to start to synthesize teaching methods and get everyone on staff on the same page.

But that isn’t the case. Game planning and scheming are at the most basic of levels—not to mention the Senior Bowl has strict rules on what is legal for Saturday’s game. For example, teams generally aren’t allowed to blitz on game day (insert your Matt Patricia jokes here).

“We’re talking about a week where we’re working on fundamentals, we’re working on technique,” Patricia said. “It’s not a scheme week. I mean, pretty much you could do the playbook, it’s done already. I think from that standpoint, we’re not talking about coaching strategies. We’re not talking about game plan stuff, which is some of the things when you interview coaches for your full staff (that) are important.”

Why hurry?

At this point in time, it makes sense for Detroit to take their time. There are plenty of candidates in the coaching pool, several of which may have become recently available. It sounds like big changes could be coming in Green Bay on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously, there’s a lot of good coaching talent in San Francisco—especially on defense—that won’t be hirable until the end of the Super Bowl.

Is it really worth it to limit your coaching search just to get a week’s worth of basic practices together with a set of players that mostly won’t be on your team?

Patricia clearly believes the answer is no.

“I don’t think it’s a wise thing to rush that,” Patricia said. “We’re in the same boat everybody else is. Everybody’s interviewing guys, everybody’s talking to people. We got a little bit of a head start on some of the guys we’ve talked to, which is positive for us, but to just kind of throw a staff together because we have to coach the Senior Bowl—I didn’t think that was really a very smart or wise move.”

Overall, it’s really hard to imagine the Lions being hurt in any tangible way by not having a full coaching staff at the Senior Bowl. If there are any downsides, they’re negligible at worst. In my opinion, the positives—developing your current staff and allowing a thorough, complete coaching search—outweigh any negative impact of a “shorthanded” crew in Mobile.