That feeling is not apparently shared by some inside the Detroit Lions facility.
On Friday, Lions linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard was asked if he was worried about the team getting complacent after seeing some success over the past couple months—tallying a 5-1 record over the last six games. Sheppard seemed almost insulted by the question.
“I think that would be a joke for somebody in this building to get complacent,” Sheppard said. “With where this organization has been for the last decade, for you to experience six weeks of winning football and think you’ve arrived, that’s a joke to me”
Sheppard has been one of the most confident coaches in that Lions locker room. Back during OTAs, when many pointed to the Lions’ linebacker room as a significant weakness, he boldly told the media that they have a lot of confidence in their group. That group is one of the biggest surprises this season.
Back when the Lions’ run defense was getting gashed in the preseason and early in the regular season, Sheppard stepped in front of the podium and asked, “Who lined up and ran on us?” Now, the Lions are coming off performances where they completely neutralized the likes of Aaron Jones, Saquon Barkley, and Dalvin Cook.
The confidence was always there, and just because the results are finally coming now doesn’t mean there will be a change in attitude or approach.
“I think we still look at this thing like a chip on our shoulder,” Sheppard said. “We’re still chipping away to prove what we’ve known all along.”
A former professional linebacker who played for many years, Sheppard believes this is just the beginning. Many of the players that are carving out significant roles on defense—Aidan Hutchinson, Malcolm Rodriguez, Alim McNeill, James Houston, Kerby Joseph—are just beginning their NFL careers. Sheppard believes the way general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell are building this team, the improvement and chemistry they’re building on defense should carry over well beyond 2022.
“Oh it better carry over,” Sheppard said. “These guys are locked in on four-year rookie contracts. So at worst, you’re going to have these players for three, four years all playing together.
“You talk about the phenomenal job our front office is doing right now as far as identifying talent—not only early. That’s easy. The top-10 picks, that is what it is. That’s already sorted itself. But late, when you start talking about fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh rounds, the undrafted free agents, the job that Brad Holmes and (assistant GM) Ray Agnew and that crew is doing—and shuffling in and shoveling in this immense of young talent—I think that’s how you create a sustainable culture.”
But Sheppard knows it’s also on him and the rest of the coaching staff to make sure those young players continue to improve. From the moment even talented prospects step into the building, the staff knows there could still be a lot of work to do because some college programs might not develop their kids properly for the professional game.
“I have guys in my room that played linebacker telling me they’ve never hit a sled,” Sheppard said. “That is crazy to me, but that’s where we’re at nowadays. [...] So what Dan (Campbell) has done a great job of is finding [coaches] who have played the game and understand, but at the same time, can teach guys the game, and teach them the details, fundamentally upgrade these guys to have them playing at the level that they’re playing. I take my hat off to every coach in this building.”
Kelvin Sheppard’s media sessions are always very strong and powerful. I highly suggest watching the entire thing here.