PHOENIX – Dan Campbell has often talked about how new Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton was one of the most important coaching mentors that helped Campbell excel in coaching and eventually led to his hiring by the Detroit Lions for their head coach opening in 2021.
Campbell was first a player for Payton and then on his coaching staff in New Orleans. He was named Payton's assistant head coach and tight ends coach in 2016. It turns out Payton was trying to get Campbell on his coaching staff long before that became a reality in 2016, six years after Campbell hung up his cleats as a player.
"When his career was finished spent a number of years trying to hire him," Payton said Monday at the AFC coaches breakfast at the Annual League Meetings in Phoenix. "It's kind of difficult you know to get a coach who's under contract and I was finally able to do that.
"He's smart. He's tough. He's passionate. I think we are in the passion business and certainly Dan is. He's a tremendous teacher. And he is someone that communicates extremely well with his players. Like, extremely well. Sometimes it's not what they want to hear, but I think they appreciate that and it's really good to see him doing well."
Detroit was one of the hottest teams in the NFL the second half of last season, finishing 8-2 and nearly missing the playoffs after a 1-6 start. Campbell and the Lions now enter 2023 as the betting favorites to win the NFC North and a team that's garnered national attention as a franchise on the rise in the NFC.
Knowing Campbell for as long as he has both as a player and coach, Payton isn't surprised Campbell has the Lions on an upward trajectory.
"I felt like we watched some of the toughest games for Detroit there for a stretch and it was great to see that turn," Payton said. "We've seen a 60-some-yard field goal bounce off the crossbar. I mean, you lose track of the many ways. But (Dan) epitomizes grit and toughness."
INTELLECT KEY TO SUTTON'S GAME
Lions general manager Brad Holmes had a plan in free agency to improve Detroit's secondary, and he made signing veteran cornerback Cam Sutton one of his first priorities. The former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback played every position in the secondary over his first six seasons in the league and is expected to be a versatile player in Detroit too after signing a three-year contract with the Lions in free agency.
"The first thing I think about is his above-the-neck game, his maturity and his preparation," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Monday, when asked what Detroit was getting in Sutton. "But, in stating that first, you're almost disrespectful to his talent. He's a talented guy. But beyond that, I think the things that are his calling cards are his intellect and his prep, his communication skills. I just think it allows him to be versatile. He does a good job of getting people around him on the same page and I'd imagine those are skills that are going to travel."
Sutton appeared in 84 career games (39 starts) with the Steelers and recorded 164 tackles (140 solo), 38 pass defenses, eight interceptions, eight tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three quarterback hits, two sacks and one fumble recovery playing outside corner, nickel corner and even some safety.
Detroit added another veteran cornerback in free agency in Emmanuel Moseley, a physical player who started 33 games for the San Francisco 49ers the last four years. For the last two years, Moseley's defensive coordinator in San Francisco was new Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans.
"In Emmanuel, Detroit is getting a tough, hard-nosed corner," Ryans said. "EMan is battle-tested. He's played in big games, he's played on the big stage and he has big-time playmaking ability. I'm happy for EMan. To see him go from undrafted free agent and to battle – and he's gone through ups and downs through his career with injuries – I'm happy to see him get a shot there in Detroit.
"And you're getting an unbelievable person off the field and you're also getting a competitor. In practice, each and every day, EMan is a competitor. Every rep is a game rep for him. That's what has set him apart and allowed him to make it in the NFL."
Moseley is coming off a torn ACL suffered last October but is expected to be ready to play by the start of the season.