Lions rookies, once Iowa teammates, face off in rookie minicamp

ALLEN PARK — The matchup between linebacker Jack Campbell and tight end Sam LaPorta at Detroit Lions rookie minicamp on Saturday was unlike the others.

On one play, LaPorta beat Campbell to the ball and there appeared to be a little finger-waving involved. Not a big deal, it was just one play with two buddies lining up against each other.

Campbell, a first-round pick, and LaPorta, a second-rounder, both played the last four years at Iowa. Not only were they teammates, the last two years they lived in the same house with a bunch of buddies.

“It’s like backyard football, not actually, but you’re going against your buddy, we’re competing,’’ LaPorta said. “That’s what we all love, we love football and it’s so fun to do it against Jack.’’

Campbell said that competition brings out the best in both of them.

“Hats off to him, he’s an incredible player, you guys know that. All you can do is keep going, every rep, give it your all, focus, (be) fundamentally sound. Obviously I’ll look back on it. There’s definitely something better I could’ve done, but it was a helluva play by him,’’ Campbell said. “In a real game I’m going back to the huddle and get ready for the next play, you can’t sulk about anything.’’

It was just the second day of the three-day Lions’ rookie minicamp for them along with the other draft picks and undrafted free agents. First-round pick running back Jahmyr Gibbs did not participate after a minor tweak on Friday. Cornerback Brian Branch, second round, also was out with a minor injury. Quarterback Hendon Hooker (third round) was watching and taking mental reps. He’s coming off an ACL injury with no timetable on when he’ll be able to participate.

Lions assistant GM Ray Agnew said in this three-day camp they’re looking for movement and to see if the rookies are learning.

“I’m a big believer, if you love the game you’ve got a chance to be a good football player,’’ Agnew said. “They love the game, they’re passionate about the game. We love all the guys that we’ve got.’’

LaPorta and Campbell both showed off their speed and competitiveness.

In fact, LaPorta, wearing No. 87, was a standout throughout the practice which was open to the media. He’s got speed and it showed. He was asked if he looks faster in person than on tape.

“Maybe. Somebody called me underwhelming one time. I think I can play with the best of them,’’ LaPorta said.

LaPorta will help fill the gap left when Detroit traded away tight end T.J. Hockenson at the trade deadline last season. He joins Lions tight ends Brock Wright, James Mitchell, Shane Zylstra and Derrick Deese Jr. 

He’s just getting a feel for the offense.

“They demand a lot, very small details, I’m learning all the real intricate details of the system right now. Of course I’ve messed them up a couple times already. You’ve probably heard them yelling at me,’’ LaPorta said. “Those details are really what separates you apart in the National Football League. They were great last year and I hope I can contribute this year.’’

It’s not lost on him that he’s joining an offense that was ranked fourth in the NFL last year.

“Maybe I’m a little naive, I think all rookies are. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, I got chills, when I heard we were going to Arrowhead to open up the season,’’ LaPorta said. “I’m living my dream of playing ball. I never thought I’d be in this situation but here I am.’’

And it’s on the same field with his Hawkeye buddy.

Coach Dan Campbell has said he expects Jack Campbell, who wears No. 46, to be a starter on Day One. 

“Obviously it’s high expectations for me, but everything is earned. I’m going to come into a room with other guys who are going to be super hungry. I look forward to meeting them, learning from them,’’ Jack Campbell said. “All I can do is prepare to the best of my ability and let my talents and everything else take me to where I need to go. I’m going to do everything I can to put this team in the best position to win games, whatever it is. Right now a lot of people have high expectations, that’s all good, I’m going to stick to what I know, who I am and come out here every day and give it my all.’’

The rookies will get their first turn at practicing with the veterans when OTAs begin on May 23.


2023 Lions schedule features 5 nationally televised games

Season starts at Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champs

Amazing what winning will do to give an NFL team a schedule with five nationally televised games.

After winning eight of their last 10 games last season and barely missing the playoffs, the NFL has taken notice of the Detroit Lions. After one nationally televised game in 2022 (on Thanksgiving), the Lions will have at least five in 2023 starting with the opener at the Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 7.

While the NFL had several other solid potential matchups for the Chiefs’ opener, they chose the Lions.

“We really like that narrative around that team, the culture they’re building there, the way they finished that season 8 wins out of their last 9 or 10 games. The last time we saw them on national television was the last game, Game 272 of the regular season, and they were beating the Packers in Lambeau to keep Aaron Rodgers  out of the playoffs,’’ NFL vice president of broadcast Onnie Bose told the Dan Patrick Show on Thursday. 

“We really like that there’s a lot of energy there and we feel really good about starting the season with that energy against the Super Bowl champs,’’ Bose added.

The last time the Lions played at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium was on Dec. 14, 2003. The Chiefs won 45-17.

The Lions will play in one Monday night game at home to the Las Vegas Raiders on Oct. 30. They’ll travel to Dallas for a Saturday night game on Dec. 30.

Detroit will head to Green Bay for a Thursday night game on Sept. 28. And then they will welcome the Packers to Ford Field for Thanksgiving. The Lions were 2-0 against the Packers last season including the season-ending win that kept the Packers out of the playoffs.

The Lions enter the season as favorites in the NFC North after a 5-1 mark in the division in 2022.

Times and dates for two home games against Denver in Week 15 and the Vikings in Week 18 have not been determined.

Detroit Lions 2023 schedule:

— Week 1: Thursday, Sept. 7 at Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)

—  Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24 vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 28 at Green Bay Packers, 8:15 p.m. (Amazon Prime)

— Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8 vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22 at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 8: Monday, Oct. 30 vs. Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)

— Week 9: BYE WEEK

— Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12 at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)

— Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 19 vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 23 vs. Green Bay Packers, 12:30 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3 at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10 at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 15: TBD, vs. Denver Broncos, TBD (TBD)

— Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24 at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. (FOX)

— Week 17: Saturday, Dec. 30 at Dallas Cowboys, 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)

— Week 18: TBD, vs. Minnesota Vikings, TBD (TBD)

Lions GM Brad Holmes can’t hide emotions – he’s thrilled with draft

ALLEN PARK — When the cameras focus in on the NFL war rooms on draft weekend, many of the reactions include big smiles, a little hand-shaking, not much else. Ho-hum.

Not so for the Lions with GM Brad Holmes. At all. He’s punching tables, high-fiving and bear-hugging colleagues after making his picks. 

He’s also thrown some inadvertent elbows to whoever might be too close. It’s still legend how Rod Wood, team president, was on the wrong end of Holmes’ celebration when Penei Sewell was drafted.

So this year Holmes told himself and others in the room he was going to try to be more disciplined.

It didn’t work.

“I guess I just can’t state it or emphasize it enough that we draft players that we love,’’ Holmes said when the three-day draft was complete on Saturday.

“When you’re able to get them sometimes you can’t control the emotion. It’s genuine. It’s authentic. You find that guy you love and that’s a fit for what we’re about and what our culture is and what we want our football team to look like, you just really can’t control your emotions.

Most of the time the object in front of me is a table, that’s what gets the beating all the time,’’ he added.

It’s all an indication that Holmes was “thrilled” with the eight players he drafted.

In the first round he nabbed running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. He sees both as immediate impact players.

He was criticized for maybe taking Gibbs too early with the 12th pick, but he made no apologies. He was the player they wanted at that spot. 

Ultimately what he’s trying to accomplish is to win more games. The end of last season was good but not good enough because they didn’t get to the playoffs.

“I know a lot will be said that ‘you acquired a running back in the first round.’ We didn’t acquire a running back in the first round. We acquired an elite weapon to keep our offense explosive in the first round,’’ Holmes said.

“We didn’t acquire an inside linebacker in the first round, we acquired a legit anchor to elevate our defense in the first round. That’s what the ultimate goal is, that’s what our vision is. We couldn’t be more excited about how the weekend went,’’ said Holmes who was wearing a black sweatshirt featuring a large photo of coach Dan Campbell on the front.

“I told you all this is my brother, this is my guy,’’ Holmes said. “I love this sweatshirt.”

Holmes, who just finished his third draft with the Lions, also made a big move on Saturday, trading running back D’Andre Swift who he called a “dynamic, electric football player.” Swift was sent to the Eagles — Philadelphia is his hometown —  for an earlier seventh-round pick on Saturday and a fourth-round pick in 2025.

“It’s my job to keep laser-focused on the present, but probably even more to keep laser-focused on the future. That’s what went into a lot of decisions with having to make the trade of D’Andre Swift to Philly,’’ Holmes said. “He was in the last year of his contract. Going back to last year I felt good about bringing back Jamaal Williams, it didn’t happen. You have to be prepared for those things.

 “We don’t draft scared, we don’t kind of play scared. The thing with Jahmyr Gibbs, that’s the guy we loved. Again, having to keep that laser focus for the future and we wanted to do the right thing for the player,’’ Holmes said.

2023 Lions draft

RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama, first round (12th overall)

LB Jack Campbell, Iowa, first round (18th overall)

TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa, second round (34th overall)

DB Brian Branch, Alabama, second round (45th overall)

QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee, third round (68th overall)

DL Brodric Martin, Western Kentucky, third round (96th overall)

OL Colby Sorsdal, William & Mary, fifth round (152nd overall)