On Thursday morning, ahead of the second day of joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell addressed the media via press conference and discussed how the team performed on Wednesday.
“I was proud of those guys,” Campbell opened his presser saying. “We came out and I loved our tempo. I thought we were physical. Certainly, we have a lot to clean up, but I thought we challenged in all three phases—offense, defense, and special teams.”
The general consensus from both Lions and Colts reporters was that the Colts won decisively early—specifically against the Lions’ offense on 7-on7s, and the Lions’ defense in the red zone—but Detroit battled back and slowly increased their competitive edge as the practice wore on.
“So, really, you take away the 7-on-7 on offense—which was not good for us—and the red zone defensively,” Campbell continued. “So, if you take those two periods out, I thought (our performance in practice) was pretty good.”
As expected, the catalyst that created the competitive spark, was the introduction of the Lions’ offensive line into team drills.
“When the O-line came over, we were different,” Campbell explained. “I loved it. It was good to see those guys ‘go eat’ in the middle. I thought some of our combination blocks, in the middle, in the run game, but the pass protection as well—I thought our play-pass stuff was as good as I’ve seen in a while. Which is encouraging. So, that fired me up. They got our tempo going when the big boys came over. So, that was good to see.”
This has been a theme throughout training camp. In early practices, before the team was allowed to put on pads, the Lions’ defense looked sharp. But on Day 5, when the pads came on, the offensive line asserted themselves with authority. This was also reflected in the Lions’ first preseason game, where the offensive line dominated play and the team followed their lead.
As Wednesday’s practice progressed the Lions became more competitive, and in turn, more confident. That’s no easy task for a team that is in year two of a rebuild going up against a Colts team that has had a winning record in three of the four years since coach Frank Reich took over.
“I think you want to know you don't look out of place, and I didn’t feel that (we were),” Campbell continued. “I think ultimately, that’s what you want to know. Like, ‘man, is this something where we feel like we’re outmatched?’ And I didn’t feel that way.”
Gaining that feeling of being able to compete with a perennial playoff contender, can do wonders for a young team’s confidence. Something Campbell says he can feel throughout the roster.
“It gives you a confidence,” Campbell concluded. “You can feel it in our players. Our players have a confidence. They feel like they’re getting better, and to know that, they feel like they stack up against these guys (the Colts). That we’re not out of place. And that we are getting better. And that we can do some things in all three phases. It gives our team confidence.”