5 things I learned about the Detroit Lions during Episode 2 of ‘Hard Knocks’

HBO’s “Hard Knocks: Training camp with the Detroit Lions” has been very entertaining through its first two episodes, with the second installment giving viewers some takeaways about how the team operates.

Even though Pride of Detroit is in the building every day, a well-produced behind-the-scenes show like “Hard Knocks” can open your eyes to things you maybe hadn’t been so sure about, as well as things we simply don’ t have access to.

Dan Campbell wants to stay aggressive in games

A popular question throughout the offseason has been: Will coach Dan Campbell continue to be aggressive in 2022, or was that just something he did out of necessity in 2021?

If the Lions’ first preseason game was any indication, we may have gotten our answer. With just under four minutes remaining in the game, the Lions were up three points and had the ball. And a pre-series conversation Campbell had with (likely) another coach via the communications system relieved his end-of-game strategy.

“Alright, here we go, let’s close this game out,” Campbell says. “Yeah, I’m talking about scoring an (expletive) touchdown. I want to close this (expletive) game out.”

In a four-minute offense, teams can either design a series of plays to drain the clock or go for the jugular and the double-digit lead. Campbell opted for the latter. With the first-team offense looking solid in camp and in the game, combined with an aggressive Campbell, fans could be in for some highly entertaining games this season.

Coaches spend a lot of time working on the mental side of the game

“Men, it’s time for a change,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said during a speech to the entire roster and staff. “It’s for a change for you as players, for this organization, for us as coaches. Man, I’m trying to get something to stir you up from the inside, that’s going to change exactly who you are as a player, who this organization is, so we can get ready to move forward on this journey.”

He used a few examples from players’ college days when they were on dominating teams that woke up every morning “knowing they were going to win.”

“Time to get that feeling back,” Glenn continued. “Y’all dig what I’m saying. Time to get that feeling back. At some point, we have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘enough is enough.’”

But Glenn wasn’t alone in his approach to the mental side of things, as we saw with a few other coaches during the episode as well.

Following an intense sideline conversation between assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley and starting running back D’Andre Swift, after the back missed a read, the duo met back up after the drive to further discuss the play. Staley shows the back the play on the tablet, Swift immediately recognizes the error, and their frustration is evident.

“Hey, stay disciplined,” Staley says to Swift. “Alright, don’t try to make a play outta every play, because you gonna make a play regardless. Just stay (expletive) disciplined.”

Finally, after giving up the lead late in the game after a turnover, Campbell’s post-game speech was focused on cleaning up the mental side of the game.

“So, all we got do is clean up the little (expletive),” Campbell said. “Clean it up and get a little bit better. And that’s it. We don’t have to go from here (raises hand low) to here (raises hand high) in a week. That’s not what this is about. Honestly, you just gotta do this all season (moves hand on a slight incline upwards). As long as we do this—this low trajectory—and work our way up, we’ll be just fine.”

Coaches don’t care how you got to the NFL, the best players will play

The city of Detroit has been steadily falling in love with rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez since he was drafted in the sixth round last April. He has been highly regarded for his quick processing skills, above-average football intelligence, and his fearlessness when attacking downhill.

The only knocks on him since arriving in Detroit have been his size and NFL experience. It hasn’t taken long for him to show that he possesses the intangibles to overcome those minor flaws and he has quickly risen up the depth chart.

“I’m (expletive) sick of saying this about a rookie,” linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said during a meeting with players. “What do y’all want me to do, put him out there (with the) first (team)? Cause that’s what’s about to happen. This ain’t nothing against you, Rodriguez. Matter of fact, you’re (expletive) playing your ass off, dude. But it’s a rookie who I’m doing everything I can, not to put out here first.”

It’s easy to say, “the best players will play”, we hear that coach speak all the time in football. But this staff isn’t messing around, and come game day, Sheppard stayed true to his word and Rodriguez was out with the starters.

Brutal honesty

The NFL is a cruel business and with several former players on the coaching staff, they know it all too well. But this coaching staff isn’t going to hide things from their players, because they believe every player should know where they stand, so they know what to do in order to stick around.

Here’s more from the Sheppard speech above, where he was challenging his veteran linebackers to knock the rookie out of the starting lineup:

Y’all need to know this type of (expletive). This (expletive) don’t need to be a secret. A coach that’s been in this building for five years said he’s not seen a stack linebacker make this type of play. That is (expletive) high linebacker play right there. I love it. I love it, 44 (Malcolm Rodriguez).

Duce Staley had his own dose of reality speech ahead of the preseason game:

For some of you, this is preseason. For some of you, this determines your (expletive) season.

Campbell echoed a similar note during his post-game speech in the locker room:

Some of you young guys. This is probably it for your opportunity. This is probably it. And I’m not trying to be a turd, that’s not what this is about. But it is reality. You’ve got to make the most of every opportunity when they come up. That’s the reality.

There aren’t many secrets in Allen Park these days, just brutal honesty.

David Blough captured the pulse of the team at this time

Following a costly fumble late in the game, Blough was full of emotions on the sidelines, in the locker room, and with his wife. In a brief moment captured by the “Hard Knocks” cameras, Blough says the following to his wife:

Did the hard part, just gotta finish it.

And that’s where this team currently sits. They’re putting in the work and coming to play every practice, but right now one of the biggest obstacles in front of them is learning how to finish games.

But if the team continues to work hard on the little things, slowly improving their trajectory each day, staying disciplined, staying honest with themselves, staying aggressive, playing their best players, and changing their mindset back to their winning ways, they’ll learn how to close out games and will reintroduce a winning culture back to Detroit.

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