Allen Park — Mark Brunell didn’t know much about Jared Goff before the quarterback landed in Detroit via a trade this offseason. Now, Goff might not have a bigger fan in the organization than his position coach.
With documented struggles on the practice field and a so-so performance in the preseason opener anchoring outside expectations for the former No. 1 overall pick, Brunell heaped praise on his pupil on Thursday.
“I’ve been impressed with Jared from Day 1, Brunell said. “Let’s start with the person. He’s a hard worker. He has a great attitude. He’s a very good leader. As far as him on the field, you guys have seen it, he can throw that ball. He makes good decisions with it, and he’s really grown into this offense to the point where he’s doing a good job with it.
“I, as a quarterbacks coach, it’s important to stress how critical it is to take care of the ball, to make good decisions,” Brunell said. “If you don’t, you find yourself in trouble, but he’s been very smart with the ball. It’s been fun coaching him. He’s great to coach, because he’s coachable. When he does make a mistake, he responds well. He learns from it, and that’s all you can ask for in your quarterback room.”
Of course, taking care of the football has been an issue for Goff in recent years. A Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018, he has thrown 29 interceptions the past two seasons. Only Philip Rivers (31) and Jameis Winston (30) have had more.
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Sean McVay, who coached Goff the previous four years with the Rams, reportedly grew frustrated with his quarterback’s decision-making, which led to the swap with the Lions that sent Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles. And based on some of the throws Goff has made on the practice field, that negative trait has persisted.
During Thursday’s practice, he made several bad decisions, resulting in two interceptions and two deflections that were also almost picked off by defenders. The past couples weeks, Detroit’s cornerbacks have shown a knack for jumping his routes, particularly on third downs.
“It’s training camp,” Brunell said, dismissing the day’s struggles. “It happens, and what do you do? Like I said, you learn from those mistakes. As we go in training camp, we’ll find ourselves down in the red zone again, and I’ve always said that — and maybe a lot of people would disagree with this — but I don’t think in practice anything bad happens on the football field. We don’t like interceptions. We don’t like turnovers. It’s the worse thing, but you learn from it. So the next time you’re in that situation as long as you don’t make a mistake, then I’m pleased.”
Brunell also sang the praises of Goff’s arm strength and his leadership, comparing his demeanor to a future Hall of Famer Brunell used to back up during his playing days.
“He has a lot of qualities that I saw in Drew Brees,” Brunell said. “Really, the passion for the game, the work ethic, the leadership. There are some similarities there, which is great to see.”
Finally, Brunell also dismissed concerns about Goff’s reliance on checkdown passes, putting a positive spin on the tendency.
“I have no problem with the checkdown, I have no problem with not getting a bunch of shots down field,” Brunell said. “As long as you’re taking care of the ball, and you’re not turning it over — we’re just not going to throw deep balls to throw deep balls. We don’t do that. But when they’re there, you take them. I think he’s been very selective, very smart, and we’re seeing more and more of those.”
Competition at defensive tackle
The Lions have less than two weeks before they have to trim the roster from 85 players to 53. That means plenty of difficult decisions are ahead, including what to do at defensive tackle.
The Lions revamped the position group in the offseason, trading for Michael Brockers and drafting Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill back-to-back on the second day of the draft. They join holdovers from last year’s roster, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand and John Penisini, giving the team impressive depth at a position they sorely lacked it a year ago.
But to make matters more interesting, young veterans Kevin Strong and Bruce Hector are forcing their way into the mix with their performances. Lions fans are no stranger to Strong, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and has appeared in 14 games across two seasons. But Hector, he just got here.
Added as a waiver claim at the end of July, he’s done nothing but impress during his short time with the Lions, including a sack, a couple quarterback pressures and three total tackles in the preseason opener.
“He does make it difficult, in a good way,” Campbell said. “Every day he comes out and does his job and just shows up. He’s just kind of quietly is always there. He’s consistent, he’s smart, he’s a workhorse, and it’s hard not to notice. It sure is. He would be one of those guys that is going to make it real hard on us if he continues to trend the way he’s trending.”
All training camp, something has felt off with Pro Bowl punter Jack Fox. Sure, there are the booming kicks that earned him those honors a year ago. We all saw that with his 66-yarder against the Bills last weekend. But there’s also been a higher percentage of mishits, leading to low-trajectory punts that are traveling between 35-40 yards. We saw one of those against the Bills, too.
Fox acknowledged his offseason inconsistencies, but didn’t seem too worried.
“Yeah, I think I’ve been a little up and down,” he said. “I’ve had a few more mishits and just trying to clean that up. I’ll be ready for the season.”
After the best punting season in franchise history, and one of the best in league history, the Lions didn’t bother to waste a roster spot on competition for Fox this year. That’s in stark contrast to last offseason, when the still-unproven Fox had to fend off a stiff challenge from rookie Arryn Siposs that went down to the wire.
“I’m just trying to stay on top of myself,” Fox said. “Obviously there’s a fine line between being comfortable and being uncomfortable, and having competition is uncomfortable. So I’m trying to replicate that as well as I can, making myself uncomfortable in a lot of situations.”
In his first season with the Lions, Fox averaged 49.1 yards per punt, while netting 44.8 yards when touchbacks and return yardage were factored into the equation.