INDIANAPOLIS – We talked during the Senior Bowl last month about how that week in Mobile was a great opportunity for some of the best senior talent in this draft to make a good impression on the Lions front office and coaching staff.
But it also turns out the Lions coaching staff was able to make a big impression on some of the athletes participating in the annual all-star game as well.
The Lions worked with quarterback prospects Malik Willis, Sam Howell, and Bailey Zappe while coaching the American team. All three quarterbacks walked away from that week with a very high regard for head coach Dan Campbell and the Lions coaching staff.
The Lions could certainly be in the market for a quarterback in this draft with both of Jared Goff's backups – Tim Boyle and David Blough – headed toward free agency.
View photos from media availability at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Indianapolis.
"I thought those guys were awesome, starting with Coach (Mark) Brunell, working with me and the quarterbacks," said Howell, who some have mocked to the Lions with the No. 32 pick in the draft. "I thought he was an awesome guy, an awesome coach. He's doing a really good job.
"Coach Ben Johnson, I was happy to see him get the coordinator job. I think he definitely deserves it. He did a really good job for us that week. It was just a lot of fun to be around those guys. You can tell all those guys really love the game, and I wouldn't be surprised if they start winning soon."
Howell combined to throw for 6,642 yards with 54 touchdowns and 16 interceptions the last two seasons for UNC. In 2021, he also rushed for 828 yards and 11 more scores.
Willis is a rising prospect in this draft with his combination of passing and running skills. He's got the most upside among the quarterbacks, and was arguably the top quarterback at the Senior Bowl for the week.
"I think it was pretty cool to get that experience with a coaching staff at the next level early at the Senior Bowl," he said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think they are cool people."
Willis, a former Auburn transfer, threw for 5,107 yards, 47 touchdowns and 18 touchdowns, combined with 1,822 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns the last two seasons at Liberty.
Zappe broke Joe Burrow's record for passing yards (5,967) and touchdowns (62) in a single season for Western Kentucky last year. He's viewed as a Day 2 or Day 3 pick.
"Oh yeah it was an awesome experience. Being able to meet Coach Campbell, Coach Johnson, Coach Brunell, I spent a lot of time with those guys and was able to learn a lot offensive wise," Zappe said.
"Some of their plays, some of their ways that they do things on the offensive side and looking back at that week was definitely a once in a lifetime, felt like a dream come true type of thing."
The reaction all three players had to being around the Lions staff is the same kind of reaction we heard from Lions players throughout the course of the season about Campbell and his staff's ability to make them better football players.
The consensus is clear. Campbell has assembled a very strong coaching staff in Detroit that is well respected around the league.