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 draft TE Sam LaPorta of Iowa to open second round

ALLEN PARK — With the first of three second-round picks, the Lions selected tight end Sam LaPorta who played at Iowa, on Friday night with the 34th overall pick.

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

“I’m going to try to add as much value as I can as quickly as I can,” LaPorta said during a media interview on Friday night where he was speaking from a draft party in his hometown of Highland, Ill.

Of Detroit’s first three picks, two are from Iowa including linebacker Jack Campbell.

LaPorta said he was repeatedly asked during the interview process which teammate he would like to take with him to the NFL and his answer was always the same: Jack Campbell. He said he shot Campbell a congratulatory note on Thursday night.

LaPorta met coach Dan Campbell, a former NFL tight end, at the NFL Combine. “I can’t wait to work for him … I can certainly learn from his journey,” LaPorta said.

LaPorta, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 245,  led Iowa in receiving in 2022 (58-657-11.3, one TD, 12 games) and won the Big Ten Tight End of the Year Award. He set the school record for tight ends with 153 career receptions.

Per his NFL draft prospect report: “LaPorta has the ability to threaten zone coverage and will make the basic catches. However, he lacks the desired elusiveness and ball skills to come away with the more challenging catches. LaPorta takes on run-blocking chores with inconsistent positioning, but has the potential to improve with more work in that phase of the game. His catch production is splashy, but he appears to have average-starter potential at the next level.”

LaPorta played in 12 games as a true freshman at Iowa in 2019 (15-188-12.5). He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten Conference selection in 2020 after leading the Hawkeyes with 27 receptions (271 yards, 10.0 per, one TD) in eight games. League coaches voted him to the third team in 2021 as the team’s top receiver (53-670-12.6, team-high three TDs in 14 games). 

LaPorta excelled at high school in Highland, Ill., catching the second-most touchdown passes in state history with 50 in his career.