Lions notes: Offensive play-caller not likely to be decided until shortly before season

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — It doesn't sound like a decision on who will serve as the offensive play-caller for the Detroit Lions is imminent. 

Coach Dan Campbell, who took over those duties from former offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn in the middle of last season, said he doesn't anticipate making a decision on whether he'll continue in the role or pass the reins to Lynn's replacement, Ben Johnson, until shortly before the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles in September. 

Lions head coach Dan Campbell says he's not sure yet who will call offensive plays during the regular season.

"I’m just going to let it go as it goes and I want to be able to coach the team right now and let him handle the offense," Campbell said, acknowledging Johnson has been calling the plays during offseason practices. "That way, I can keep my eyes on the players and what we’re doing on offense, defense and special teams."

Asked what he will need to see from Johnson the next few months to name him the play-caller, Campbell quipped scoring 85 points in the season opener would do the trick. 

"Look, I’m really not even worried about it right now, to be honest with you," Campbell said. "I just want to take it as it comes and see how he goes with it and see how he handles running the offense, doing what I need to have done on my end and kind of my viewpoint and see how the quarterbacks are and just everything, and then go from there. I think you guys know this, I’m a gut guy, so I’m going to trust my gut to make that decision when the time’s right.”

Johnson, who is in his first year as a coordinator at any level, and never has called plays before, acknowledged he feels ready for the responsibility if Campbell gives it to him. 

"You've got to be put in those situations to truly know, but our game-planning process is so detailed that I think on game day, it takes care of itself, because you know exactly what you want and where you want," Johnson said. "It's really just reading the sheet, in my opinion. The 5% that gets hard is the end-of-the-game, end-of-the-half situations where clock is running. You got to think quickly and those are the situations I actually have experience with from my time in Miami, doing that in practice with some of our guys. So I know what pitfalls there potentially are. It's a learning experience, no doubt about it, but it's one I certainly feel confident about."

Laying down a challenge

When healthy, D'Andre Swift is one of the most dynamic, dual-threat running backs in the NFL, but staying on the field has been hit-and-miss for the third-year player. 

Swift has missed extensive practice time his first two offseasons, plus he's been sidelined seven regular-season games and limited in a handful of others due to various ailments, including a shoulder injury last season. He suffered that one after recording a career-high 33 carries against Pittsburgh, more than double his next-highest, single-game workload. 

The Lions are unquestionably a better team when Swift is available, so position coach Duce Staley has issued a challenge to the player to be more willing to push through the minor ailments this season. 

"Injuries happen, but one of the things Swift and I had a conversation about is you’ve got to be able to play through some of these injuries as a running back," Staley said. "We all know there’s a difference between being injured and hurt. As soon as you step in this building as a running back, Day One training camp, you’re not going to feel the same. There will be some things you have to fight through."

Staley is speaking from a place of experience, having played the position for 10 seasons prior to going into coaching. And although actions will speak louder than words, Staley said Swift is embracing the challenge. 

"Super positive and he knows (we need him), which is good," Staley said. "Playing running back, you’re going to take your fair share of hits. ...You just have to make sure you protect yourself when it’s the time to protect yourself and then there’s going to be time to put it all out there."

Through two seasons with the Lions, Swift has amassed 1,947 yards from scrimmage and scored 17 combined touchdowns. 

Oldest guy in the room

At 31, Lions defensive lineman Michael Brockers is hardly old, not even by NFL standards, but he finds himself as the oldest player on the team's young roster as the franchise enters its second year of its rebuild.

Brockers' age is particularly notable in a defensive line room filled with pups, including four draft picks from the past two seasons. And even though a big part of the reason the Lions brought him in via trade last year was to serve as a leader for the younger players, sharing a room with those guys has helped keep Brockers energized. 

"There’s a lot of young guys, but I feel like I’m young, too, so I fit right in with them," Brockers said. 

But Brockers also understands the reality of his situation, that he's on the backside of his career. He sees former teammate Aaron Donald, who is also 31, openly discussing retirement this offseason. That's caused Brockers to reflect on his own timeline. 

"I’m in Year 11, so I can see in my future," he said. "Oh man, I don’t have too many more years ahead of me. So it’s definitely just been a thought, thinking about what I want to do. I’ve started my own podcast. Doing a little stuff outside of football that’s going to keep me busy after I’m done.

"...If I’m blessed to play 15 years, I think that’d be great. But if I’m not, I’ll be happy as well. I’ve played a long time. I’ve been so thankful."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers