Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes spoke with the Detroit media for about 30 minutes following the team’s roster cutdown to 53 players earlier this week. With head coach Dan Campbell at his side chiming in here and there, Holmes laid out his vision for the team, how they came to certain decisions, and where he believes this team’s strengths currently are.
It was a pretty informative press conference, even if Holmes is a tad more evasive than his coaching counterpart.
Here are my five takeaways from Thursday’s press conference.
Holmes doesn’t think this wide receiver room is bad
Around the midpoint of the presser, someone asked Holmes if he could get a fair assessment of Jared Goff’s quarterback play this year given that his receiver group is not perceived to be very good. Holmes clearly objected to that.
“That’s a subjective view from a wide receiver standpoint,” Holmes said. “I get what the outside narrative is. That’s not what Dan and I see on a regular basis in practice and when we evaluate the guys.”
And even though the team is currently carrying seven receivers, the Lions' general manager believes that every one of them deserves a spot on this roster, and they weren’t going to limit the position group to a specific number.
“We’re not going to eliminate a good football player because it’s overkill at a position,” Holmes said. “When you look down, 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, ‘Whoa, you got Tom Kennedy. You can’t keep him because now you’re at five and six.’ No, Tom Kennedy earned it.”
The Lions are young, but only because the young guys earned it
You may think that because the Lions are entering a rebuild and they want young, fresh players and minds to mold that Holmes went out and purposely created the second-youngest roster in the NFL. However, Holmes said they never sought out to get younger, that’s just the way these camp battles played out.
“We didn’t set out and say, ‘Man, we’ve got to get young. We’ve got to get young. Let’s find the youngest,’” Campbell said. “These young guys just happened to perform well, and they were part of the youngest, best 53 players that we decided on for the football team.”
That was obviously especially true in the secondary, where the team’s oldest cornerback in Amani Oruwariye at 25 years old. Holmes said that the young corps of players earning a roster spot is a testament to how impressive of a positional coach they have in defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
“I’ve always said that AP is one of, if not the, best DB coaches that I’ve been around,” Holmes said. “He’s extremely impressive in the way that he teaches it in a very digestible manner that allows players to learn quickly and learn fast. The energy he brings to that group, it correlates and resonates with the players. He just relates to players on the field and in the classroom.”
Look out for Amani Oruwariye and Will Harris
Admittedly these two players haven’t been talked about much this offseason. More has been written about their counterparts at their respective positions (Jeff Okudah and Tracy Walker). But both Campbell and Holmes spoke specifically about how impressed they were will Harris’ development in his third year.
“Will Harris, I’ll say the acceleration of his development, how quickly it’s gotten to in terms of knowing him when he came out of B.C. and then seeing him early on. You’ve got to be really, really excited about that,” Holmes said.
“Will and Amani may have had two of the best camps of anybody on our roster, as a matter of fact,” Campbell added.
Harris has struggled in his first two years and has been viewed by many as a potential weak point in Detroit’s starting defensive lineup. But it’s quite possible we’re underestimating just how much he’s grown under the new coaching staff. He certainly has the athletic profile to make it in this league.
Penei Sewell is on track, ready for Week 1
After struggling this preseason and ranking dead last in PFF grade on the Lions offense, many have wondered if the Lions' seventh overall draft pick would be ready to go this season. Obviously, he’s not going to lose his spot in the starting lineup, but after taking a year off last year and transitioning from left tackle to right, it was starting to look like he may struggle out of the gate come Week 1. If Holmes shares any of that concern, he certainly isn’t showing it.
“I believe that he will be ready for Week 1. I think he’s ready now,” Holmes said. “Yeah, 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 – now, I know it’s magnified about what may be perceived and seen as a hiccup here or there – but there’s so much other good stuff that may be kind of hidden when you deep-dive the film, little subtle nuances that he’s doing that is going to make a big difference.”
Specifically, Holmes believes his experiences against the Steelers in the preseason and going up every day against Romeo Okwara will continue to give him learning experiences he can grow from. Which leads to my final observation...
Romeo Okwara is going to be really, really good
I mentioned this in my 10 takeaways from camp, but Okwara looks like he could be ready to take the next step as a pass rusher. Holmes said he’s looked even better than they expected when they signed him to a three-year, $39 million extension.
“Romeo looks even better after we paid him, and we felt good about him when we paid him,” Holmes said. “And now it’s like, ‘Wow, he’s really (good).’ But every day, he’s getting (Sewell) better.”
Last year, Okwara set a career-high with 10 sacks. With more development this year—remember, he’s just 26 years old—and a better supporting cast on the defensive line, Okwara could be in for a monster year.