Five things to know as Lions face 49ers in season opener

First-year Lions coach Dan Campbell admitted he is getting antsy to get the season started on Friday.

The Campbell era begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field when the Lions face the San Francisco 49ers.

“I’m starting to get pretty excited. I know the guys are, too. They’ve been locked in and I just go back to what we said early in the week, it’s about just staying focused on your job and handling what you’re supposed to do, read your keys and let’s play fast,’’ Campbell said before Friday’s practice.

Campbell is no stranger to Ford Field or Lions fans after he spent three seasons as a Lions’ tight end. This, however, will be his first game as a head coach. It should be the first step to an interesting Dan Campbell era in Detroit.

“I know this, if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. In this League, you’ll get beat,’’ Campbell said. “So, you’ve got to have talent and I do like the young talent here and I think certainly – I do think you can close the gap.”

Five things to know as the season starts against the 49ers:

1. The Lions meet the exact specifications of Campbell and GM Brad Holmes. This is a young bunch — the second youngest team in the NFL. Young is good when it comes to energy and speed, but with experience in short supply there could be some brutal quarters, games, stretches. I know this, if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. In this League, you’ll get beat. So, you’ve got to have talent and I do like the young talent here and I think certainly – I do think you can close the gap.

2. Left tackle Taylor Decker will be sidelined Sunday with an injured finger that could require surgery. He injured it in practice on Wednesday and was expected to see a doctor on Friday. Still Campbell is making plans for the next man to step up. At practice Friday, he had rookie Penei Sewell moved over to left tackle where he played in college. He’s been practicing at right tackle for the Lions. Also, Matt Nelson could get the start in place of Decker or  Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a tackle turned guard, could start at left tackle and Logan Stenberg could step in at Vaitai’s spot at right guard. 

3. Running back D’Andre Swift, who missed much of camp with a groin injury, will be ready to go. That’s certainly a plus. Expect him to get plenty of work against the 49ers with Jamaal Williams and Jermar Jefferson getting reps too.

4. Jared Goff is no Matthew Stafford. Remember that. The Lions certainly could have done worse at the quarterback position but, again, he is no Stafford. There are a few Stafford haters out there (I know who you are), even they might miss No. 9. Goff, the former Rams’ quarterback, is quite familiar with the 49ers defense which could be a help. “He’s faced those guys numerous times over the last – whatever it is, four years. It’s really been the same scheme. (49ers Defensive Coordinator) DeMeco (Ryans) will do some things that are a little bit different, but for the most part, I think they’re going to keep the essence of what that defense is, the front and some of the coverage-based things. I can see them wanting to play a little more man against us and we’ll have a plan for that as well.”

5. The 49ers offense led by Jimmy Garoppolo (with maybe a few appearances by Trey Lance) could feast on the young Lions defense. “We’ve been working that style of offense (using Lance at points)  a little bit in camp just in general against our own offense. Our defense has seen it, but certainly you have to prepare for it. It’s something that kid can do and does pretty well and he’s got good athletic ability and so you have to at least present it to your players for sure,’’ Campbell said.

PREDICTION: San Francisco 49ers 35, Lions 14 (It might be a tad optimistic guessing that the Lions will put up 14 points, but it’s the first game of the season and I feel generous.)

Lions coach Dan Campbell to take season one step at a time

With the San Francisco 49ers on tap in the opener on Sunday coach Dan Campbell is clearly focused on the task at hand which is beating the 49ers. Doesn’t matter that the Lions are 8-point underdogs at home.

With the second-youngest NFL team, a new coach and GM at the helm, not much is expected of the Lions this season. Campbell knows that, he isn’t an idiot. 

When asked if he plays the “prove people wrong” card he said it’s part of the team’s DNA.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that nobody expects us to do much. So, yeah, that’s part of us, but that’s just lip service. What the hell does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t go out and do our job. If I don’t do my job, it doesn’t matter that you think that we’re better than somebody else or we should be thought of as better than that,’’ Campbell said on Monday.

“Yeah, we know that and that drives you a little bit, but man, the focus has got to be on doing your freakin’ job, every one of us. Coaches, players, ‘You’ve got a job to do and let’s go do it, man.’ And you focus on that and give it your full attention and don’t worry about anything else. I think that’s got to be what we’re focused on.”

In his first season as a head coach, the way Campbell motivates his team could make some difference. Not say if he’s Super Motivator they will be playoff-bound, but each player needs to show he is worthy of his job. It might be easier to motivate now with a 0-0 record than down the road if there’s a win-loss ratio of let’s say 3-10.

“I think the focus has got to be – look, the motivation is one thing. It’s got to be about just taking a swing one more time. Like, ‘What is right in front of you? Just worry about what’s right in front of you right now,’’ Campbell said.

First players have to worry about having a good practice each day. 

“Everything has got to be about, ‘You have to do what’s right in front of you. What is the next rep that you have?’ If I’m on offense, we might have 60 plays. We can’t call 60 plays on one play. We can only call one at a time. So, ‘Just focus on that call and what your job is for that look and then take it to the next week,’’ Campbell said.

“Who’s the next opponent? That’s the next one. Don’t worry about what’s beyond that. Yeah, we’ve got Green Bay in two weeks after that. Don’t worry about Green Bay. We’ve got to worry about San Francisco.’ I think if we can just stay focused and centered on what the job is at hand right in front of us and giving it our sole focus and energy, I think that will go a long way for us,’’ the coach added.

Lions coach Dan Campbell blasts into town

Cover enough press conferences for new Detroit Lions coaches and the words all blend together. Blue collar, culture, high character, lunch pail, blah, blah, blah.

Meet Dan Campbell.

Campbell, a former Lions tight end (2006-08), was introduced as the Lions head coach on Thursday after signing a six-year deal.

“I wanted this job – bad – because I felt like I knew this community. … All right, here’s what I do know, is that this team is going to take on the identity of this city. This city has been down, and it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity.

“So this team is going to be built on – we’re going to kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you, and when you knock us down, we’re going to get up. On the way up, we’re going to bite a knee cap off, all right, and we’re going to stand up, and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other knee cap, and we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to take us down. When we do, we’re going to take another hunk out of you. Before long, we’re going to be the last one standing.

“That’s going to be the mentality, darn it. We’re going to learn that any loss that we take, we’re going to make sure that we feel the full pain of it and not grow numb to it and learn from it and not to want to taste it again. We’re going to be competitive in every game. I can’t sit up here and guarantee wins and losses. I just can’t do it,’’ Campbell, 44, said.

The former tight end just seems so unlike the others. Get this, the nameplate on his office door reads: Head coach/The Dude.

His only experience as a head coach was an interim role for the Dolphins for a dozen games. It was brief and it was tough, but he learned from it and showed enough promise that Saints coach Sean Payton took him on and promised to help him develop as a coach.

Thursday’s 90-minute virtual press conference was intense and fun. Cynical reporters typically don’t laugh and smile much when meeting a new coach. Well Campbell has a certain charm.

He had no history with new GM Brad Holmes. But both did their homework, connected with mutual friends and it looks like they are a good fit. Holmes interviewed Campbell before the final decision was made.

“There’s no secret, you have to get good people around you, who are all pulling in the same direction. It’s team. It’s all about team. There’s no ego. Brad and I are going to have – we both have say on the 53-man roster. We have to agree. So, we’re going to go into a room, and we’re just going to fight until one of us comes up. We’ll see what happens – no,’’ Campbell said.

He was kidding. (It’s hard to tell with his deadpan delivery, but he was.)

“We are going to collaborate. We are going to come up with the best answer, the best solution. What can we do with this guy – is it for the future, is it for now? That’s not even a problem – I want it that way. I want people to challenge me on an idea. I don’t want to have a bunch of people that agree with everything that I say – that’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t want a bunch of people who drink a gallon of coffee like I do in a day. You find the right mix and the right balance of people. I know this, when it starts at the top and it’s right, then it’ll go down, it’ll trickle down to where it’s supposed to. Those guys are going to have pride in where there are, who they play for, how they’re going to play. You’d say more times than not, that leads to success, and there’s only one way to do it, and it’s to do it the right way. That’s the other thing that intrigued me about Sheila, she wants to win bad, but she’s not going to sell her soul to the devil to do it, neither am I.’’

He wouldn’t comment on Matthew Stafford’s future but called him “a stud.” 

Team owner Shelia Ford Hamp was a vital part of the decision process. The team — Hamp, Rod Wood, Chris Spielman and Mike Disner — set goals and worked the process. Along the way, they interviewed two Saints for the GM job. They asked each who they would want as head coach. Both said Dan Campbell who most recently served as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the Saints.

“All I can say is I’m confident we have two terrific men. They’re both incredibly smart, articulate in what they’re looking for and our team. They’re both winners. I think they speak the same language, and I think it’s going to be an awesome relationship. It already is, and they hadn’t really known each other,’’ Hamp said. “I think this is going to be just great. Really great.”

Time will tell.

Until then, watch your knee caps.