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.


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)

Lions trade RB D’Andre Swift to Eagles

ALLEN PARK — In a move that was expected, the Detroit Lions traded running back D’Andre Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

The move was in the cards once the Lions drafted running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round on Thursday night. Lions GM Brad Holmes chose his words carefully after that pick, pointing out that Swift was still on the roster. 

Like Swift, Gibbs is a threat out of the backfield. Last season at Alabama he rushed for 926 yards with seven touchdowns and had 44 receptions for 444 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

The Lions acquired 25-year-old veteran running back David Montgomery in free agency and lost Jamaal Williams who signed with the Saints.

In return for the trade to the Eagles, the Lions will swap seventh-round picks today (Saturday), moving up to 219th from 249th and receive a fourth-round pick in 2025.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman told ESPN: “(Swift’s) got big-play ability as a runner and a receiver. We saw it first-hand when we were in Detroit the first game of the season.”

The 24-year-old Swift, who was drafted by Detroit with the third pick in the second round in 2020, finished his three seasons (39 games) with 364 carries for 1,680 yards (4.6 yards per carry), 18 rushing touchdowns and 156 receptions for 1,198 yards and seven receiving TDs. 

He returns to his hometown of Philadelphia where he attended St. Joseph’s Prep before playing college ball at Georgia.