Lions with confidence in developing quarterbacks: Ben Johnson ‘is a rock star’

It seems like a given conclusion that at some point in the near future – whether it’s this year, next year or a couple down the round – the Detroit Lions need to develop a young quarterback. You could even argue that Jared Goff, still only 27 years old, has room to grow in his game.

Developing a quarterback is an essential part of the game in today’s NFL, and it’s natural to wonder if the Lions – with a first-time offensive coordinator in Ben Johnson and a quarterback coach in Mark Brunell, who is just starting his second years as a coach at the NFL level – is able to effectively care for a young passer.

Head coach Dan Campbell this week expressed full confidence in his coaching staff.

“I have all the faith in the world as far as we have what we need to develop a quarterback,” Campbell said. “It does not worry me a bit.”

Brunell, of course, comes with a wealth of experience as an NFL quarterback – 18 years in the league, to be exact. In his last five seasons in the league, Brunell served as a knowledgeable backup – first behind Drew Brees in New Orleans and then behind young Mark Sanchez with the Jets.

“I liked the fact that ‘Bru’ was playing for a couple of years and had to prepare that way,” Campbell said. “So he has his own view on it. He understands the basics, he understands the side of the game to prepare on top of all the other schematic, game plans, all those things.”

But it’s been a while since Brunell played the game, and as Campbell admitted, the game has changed a lot in the last 10 years. With the shortening of offseason programs and preseason cut to just three games, it is becoming more and more difficult to develop young quarterbacks.

Brunell, however, has a unique experience with young quarterbacks before coming to Detroit. For five years – ranging from 2016 to 2020 – the former NFL quarterback served on the NFL Combine as a sort of mentor for quarterbacks who entered the league.

“Our purpose, our goal is really to serve these young men, to be a mentor to them, to be a resource for them, to answer questions, to give advice, to really just take part in the process,” Brunell told the Detroit Free Press in 2020.

While Brunell’s history and work with him last year gives Campbell confidence, it’s clear the Lions head coach has been blown backwards by Johnson throughout his career. The first two crossed paths in Miami, where Campbell served as tight-ends coach (and eventually interim head coach), while Johnson worked his way up from offensive assistant to assistant quarterback coach to tight-ends coach.

“Right in our time, when he was basically (quality control coach) in Miami, he understood quarterback play very well,” Campbell said. “Even from there he had a good feeling, but he was always a guy who was very keen on the ins and outs of that position and the offensive as a whole. And he was a sponge, man. He constantly solved problems and asked questions.”

Although much of Johnson’s resume is filled with tight end-related jobs, he has always been tied for the quarterback position in one way or another. In college, he was a walk-on quarterback for North Carolina. While working his way up the coaching staff, he has rubbed his elbows with some of the best quarterback gurus the league has to offer.

“I think Ben’s a rock star, man … he’s been around some really good coaches, now, some guys who have coached some pretty good quarterbacks,” Campbell explained. “Just being around Mike Sherman when I was with him down there. Joe Philbin, who was with (Aaron) Rodgers. Then he’s with (Adam) Gase, who had (Payton) Manning and the guys. So he understands good quarterback play. He was with Zac Taylor, who was with me in Miami. We were all there in Miami. So he understands it well. ”

Whether the Lions commit to a new quarterback this year is still much to debate. The Lions have played well on both sides, but Campbell certainly made it sound as if it would happen in the near future.

“Is it next year? Is it this year? Is it two years from now?” said Campbell. “(When) the right guy is sitting there, you’ll figure out a way to get that guy. You’re figuring out a way when it’s the right guy. “

If Detroit decides to pick a quarterback from this year’s class – especially if it’s Liberty’s Malik Willis – that player will require a significant amount of development. All quarterbacks who come into this draft come up with questions and concerns and it can take the right landing places for them to reach their potential. But it sounds like the Lions have full confidence that their coaching staff will get the most out of their future franchise quarterback, whoever it is and whenever they should arrive.

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