ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The energy is the same, even two weeks later. Dan Campbell is rocking back and forth in his chair inside his office as he starts talking about his new team and his new job as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
In Campbell’s first two weeks on the job, the landscape of the roster has drastically changed. Matthew Stafford, the Lions’ quarterback since 2009, will be headed to the Los Angeles Rams when the new league year opens in March. In exchange, Detroit will receive three draft picks — including two first-rounders — and the quarterback who will potentially be the starter of the immediate present, Jared Goff.
Campbell, due to league rules, couldn’t talk about Goff and couldn’t discuss the trade that reverberated throughout the NFL over the weekend. But the coach could explain how the offense might change and shift now that Stafford is westward bound.
Whether the quarterback ends up being Goff or another player, Campbell said what he and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn create as a scheme will largely flow through whatever that player does particularly well.
“There’s overall things that A-Lynn and myself believe in. But ultimately, this was going to be built around the quarterback anyway,” Campbell told ESPN on Sunday. “And so depending on, let’s say you were able to go get our boy from Clemson [Trevor Lawrence], well, we’re going to be running a lot more gun runs, things that he was familiar with, things that he did at Clemson. If it’s not, then you’re looking at someone that is more like Stafford and you can still do your gun stuff, you could still do under center, you could still do a little more traditional.
“So the schemes are going to be things that we feel like fit that player because he’s the one.”
A source with knowledge of the situation said Saturday night that Detroit was excited about Goff. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington spoke to Goff on Saturday night, and Goff told Darlington based on conversations he had with Campbell and other members of the Detroit staff that the Lions view him as the team’s starting quarterback.
So if that ends up being the case, Lynn and Campbell will build the offense around Goff, Campbell said the plan will be to put his players in the best position possible that they want to do that can both fit the quarterback well and have success.
Don’t be surprised if that means a lot of running the ball and playing off of that.
“[Lynn’s] like me in that of course we want to find ways to run the ball because there is a toughness about it,” Campbell said. “If it’s an 8-man box and we want to run the ball, we’re going to find a way to run it into an 8-man box because there are ways to do that. Now, you got to have some tough guys and they got to understand that. But he’s just like me in regards to, if you’re not going to take our ‘X’ out of the game, and you’re going to play off eight yards and you’re telling me we can throw hitches the whole game and let him run, then we’re going to throw it out there.
“We’re not so far into the Stone Age to where it’s like we’re going to run it 40 times.”
So expect somewhat of a balance but a clear understanding of the quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses. Lynn is capable of doing this too. With the Buffalo Bills in 2016, he had the NFL’s top rushing offense. With the Los Angeles Chargers as a head coach, they consistently had a top-10 passing offense.
So flexibility is there with whatever the Lions might do.
Even with Goff in place for at least the short term, Campbell will look to the New Orleans Saints for his philosophy on the backup quarterback: Drew Brees and Taysom Hill were different players with some similar elements the Saints could carry over from one quarterback to another.
“It’s more about let’s find the best guy for that position,” Campbell said. “I don’t think we have to be stuck in stone as far as, ‘Well, it needs to be a guy that’s been — he’s an athletic, truly mobile guy, he’s got 4.3 speed.’ I think we’ll adapt to whoever that guy is that’s the starter.”
Because in Campbell’s eyes, the plan for the offense is simple: Whatever fits its starting quarterback best will be Detroit’s offensive scheme. That could mean a lot of passing. It could mean a lot of running.
How it evolves will remain to be seen as Detroit builds its offense around a new signal-caller for the first time since Campbell was last with the Lions, as a player in 2008.
“When you’re talking about, ‘OK, well, here’s the quarterback, he’s got to start for you, man, we’ll work around him,’” Campbell said. “You have to make it work for him.”