LOS ANGELES – Lions players couldn't say enough good things this season about what it was like to play for head coach Dan Campbell and the staff he assembled in Detroit. It wasn't just lip service, either. The team battled and played hard to the last whistle Week 18, which proves he's got the support of the locker room.
Detroit played its best football toward the end of the season, when they had nothing but pride to play for, and people around the NFL took notice.
"The evaluation from ownership and the front office should be is the team fighting? Are they playing hard? Do they still believe there's hope? Do they practice hard and play hard? That's the one barometer," former Lions head coach and current NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said this week when asked about Campbell's first year in Detroit.
"And the other one is OK, they are playing hard, but are they improving too? Are they getting better in some areas? Are the young kids growing up? I think you're seeing that there. I really do. Hopefully that bodes well for next season."
View photos from DLA Field Trip to the Charles H. Wright Museum.
The Lions were forced to play a lot of young players this year because of circumstances and injuries. And when young players are forced into big roles early in their careers, there are going to be growing pains. We saw that early in the year with this team, despite there still being opportunities to win games early with a couple more bounces going their way.
But the encouraging thing for Lions fans should be how those young guys were no longer making the same mistakes later in the year when the team started playing more consistent football. There was tangible growth, and that's a credit to Campbell and his staff.
Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes are also trying to change the culture in Detroit, including more collaboration as a staff and between staffs, and creating a place in Detroit where players want to come play.
"I really like the way Dan Campbell is trying to get the culture changed there," Hall of Fame offensive lineman Tony Boselli said. "Big fan of that. I thought they played better as the season went on and I think that's a place that can turn it around quick. They have a high draft pick, add some players in free agency and it'll be interesting to see what they do."
If there was one common theme in asking people around the league about the Lions this week in Los Angeles, it's that they're viewed as a much better team than their record might indicate, and a team people think has the right coach in place to usher in a culture change, and with it, more wins.