Depth in the NFL is critical to success. The game of football takes a toll on a roster, and the more talented players a team has to withstand injuries, the better chance they have to be playing winning football deep into January.
The Detroit Lions’ roster is now at a point where we’re not talking about many—if any—starting jobs up for grabs. General manager Brad Holmes has built this roster to a point where the majority of positions battles will be to fill out those depth positions.
But as coach Dan Campbell pointed out on Thursday, depth can also provide something else: versatility. When a team has talent beyond the starting 22 players, coaches will develop subpackages and formations just to make sure they’re utilizing all of their best players.
And that’s exactly what Campbell said is coming.
“That’s the beauty of it, man. It’s one thing to have the depth if you have an injury but man, if you can keep everybody healthy and now, shoot, offensively you’ve got different packages,” Campbell said.
Specifically, Campbell pointed to the offense, where the additions of first-round running back Jahmyr Gibbs and second-round tight end Sam LaPorta will make the Lions extremely more versatile in looks.
“You add a tight end and now we can live in 13 (one RB, 3 TEs) personnel more,” Campbell said. “You got Gibbs, he comes along with (David) Montgomery, you’re going to see more two back with two H (backs). The receiver thing, you get Jamo (Jameson Williams) back, we’ve got Marvin (Jones Jr), maybe you go some 10-personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs, 4 WRs).”
You read that right. The long-awaited two-back sets could finally be coming to Detroit, and it makes sense. Both Gibbs and Montgomery present threats to not only run the ball, but both are expected to be weapons in the passing game, too.
The more varied looks you have, the more unpredictable you become on a week-to-week and even down-to-down basis. Additionally, you test the opponents’ depth with the amount of personnel changes mid-game.
The defense promises to be just as versatile this year, too. We’ve already seen the Lions mix and match roles along their defensive front, with plenty of players (Josh Pashcal, John Cominsky, Alim McNeill, Julian Okwara) all able to play varied roles on the line. Now, with the defensive additions in the secondary—Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Brian Brance—they can be just as flexible in the defensive backfield now.
“The versatility they bring, I feel like we’re going to be able to do a lot more things just with that backend,” Campbell said.
Part of the reason they’ll be able to be so flexible on defense is because they specifically targeted smart, instinctive players in free agency and the draft. So the coaches believe they can throw anything at this group, and they’ll perform.
“Give a lot of credit to our personnel department with just recognizing that, understanding exactly what we needed to get better at that was within the secondary,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “And man, the pieces that they brought in, the pieces that really fit who we are as a team, first and foremost, can do the things we need to do defensively, as far as playing man, be it playing zone. Really smart guys, really tough guys so, everybody, every piece they brought in, like fits us to a tee.”
We’ve seen teases of versatile, multiple schemes in the past, and the coaching staffs have mostly failed in following through on those promises. However, I’m not sure we’ve seen the strong personnel to back up those versatility hopes. We could be in for a fun year.