Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell said from the very start when they took over as general manager and head coach, respectively, that they were going to fill a roster with players they love, players they are excited about, and players who they see a vision for, not just in their schemes, but in the culture they're building here with the Detroit Lions as well.
After whittling the roster down to an initial 53 players this week and building a 16-man practice squad, it turns out that a lot of those players Holmes and Campbell ended up being excited about were young guys.
Detroit looks to enter the regular season as one of the younger teams in the NFL. The average age of the 53-man roster is just 24.6 years old. Only four players on the current roster – Michael Brockers, Jamie Collins Sr., Darren Fells and Nick Williams – are over the age of 30.
Holmes said it wasn't the plan going into roster cuts to try and go young, it just worked out that way with some of the young players taking big enough leaps to earn a spot in the top 53.
"We didn't set out saying, 'Hey, Dan and I are like man, we have to get young,'" Holmes said in a joint press conference with Campbell Thursday afternoon.
"These young guys just happened to perform very well and are part of the best 53 players that we decided on for our football team."
There are a number of young players that are expected to be immediate contributors Week 1 vs. San Francisco. Rookie Alim McNeill is the starting nose tackle. Undrafted rookie AJ Parker could be the first guy on the field when the Lions go to their nickel package at cornerback. Rookie Penei Sewell is starting at right tackle, and youngsters like defensive end Levi Onwuzurike, linebacker Derrick Barnes and running back Jermar Jefferson could have early important roles.
Second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah is being counted on to be a lockdown corner in year two. Running back D'Andre Swift, also in year two, is expected to have a huge role in both the run and pass game on offense.
Up and down the roster there's a lot of youth. Left tackle Taylor Decker, who at the ripe old age of 28, is the oldest starter along the offensive line.
"If you have talent and you're young and hungry, it's hard to ignore those guys," Campbell said. "We were looking for the right guys for us and the way we want to be built.
"From a coaching perspective, you're going to have some growing pains at times, you will, but the important thing is that whatever mistakes are made they aren't repeated. If they do that, and they stay young and hungry, and they're eager and they continue to put the work out, I think we have coaches that can develop them. Good things will come sooner rather than later."
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Sep. 2, 2021.
Holmes thinks the exact same way.
Campbell would rather make the move to a younger, hungrier player than to add an older veteran who may know a little better what's going on, but are "past their due" and don't have the same passion anymore.
It's a young roster in Detroit with 24 new faces making up the 53-man roster. Detroit's accelerated the retool under Holmes and Campbell by going younger and giving these young players an opportunity to grow and develop on the fly. Like Campbell said, there will be some growing pains at times, but in the long run, Detroit should be much better for getting these young players on the field and into the action early on.