DETROIT -- Darrell Bevell’s first week here was about as miserable as it gets -- but it had nothing to do with the job he took as the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator. He was stoked about that. What was happening outside the team’s practice facility -- not so much.
“During my first week was the polar vortex,” Bevell said Monday night during the franchise’s season-ticket-member summit. “So that wasn’t the best week to be here.”
Not on the outside -- the weather nightmare was so bad some Michigan communities were asked to make sure their heat was lowered to certain temperatures. But staying inside gave Bevell all the chances he needed to warm up.
Bevell, 49, has spent much of his time figuring out exactly what he’s going to construct out of a Lions offense that improved as a rushing team last season but struggled overall, leading to the ousting of Jim Bob Cooter. Included in that has been meeting with position coaches to watch tape and talking to individual players, including Matthew Stafford and Kerryon Johnson, to get a feel for them.
“It’s still something that we’re trying to build,” Bevell said in his first public comments since taking the job. “It’s easy to say what we want to do in the run game, what we want to do in the pass game, but we need to build it around our players. We’re going to do what Kerryon does well. We’re going to do what our receivers do well, what Matthew does well.
“We have to make sure we take care of the quarterback by protecting him. So at this point, to make big, bold statements, it’s a little bit early.”
Some of the things that have proven to work for the Lions’ current players are play-action for Stafford and deeper shots for Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., both of whom have proven they can win contested balls. Johnson showed he can run both inside and out, and Bevell seemed particularly intrigued by his capability as a receiver out of the backfield.
Part of why Bevell was unlikely to say too much -- other than it’s just poor form, strategically -- is the expectation Detroit is going to add some new options on offense. Both Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia have said in the past few months that tight end is going to be a priority for them after the franchise got little from a receiving perspective out of the combination of Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo and Michael Roberts last season.
And the need for another wide receiver and running back also remains. So until Bevell knows what he has and what he needs -- by going back to the tape he asked his position coaches to put together on current players -- he can’t really build the offense completely.
Bevell is here because of what he has proven from his time as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota and Seattle. On each of those teams, he built an offense around a strong rushing game that featured one of the better backs in football, including Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch for various stretches. Bevell was also the man who identified Russell Wilson as the quarterback he wanted to try and turn into a star in Seattle.
Bevell walked through his offensive plan with Quinn and Patricia during a one-and-a-half day interview in Orlando, Florida, in January and came away thinking that they had similar visions for what they wanted to accomplish.
Bevell will want to run the ball -- he said Monday it is “something I believe in wholeheartedly” -- but he has often focused on trying to build around his players (something, frankly, almost every offensive coordinator says they do). That message fits with what Quinn and Patricia wanted. Quinn wanted to have a coordinator who was adaptable to game plan shifts by the week.
Patricia has long been in favor of an offense that can establish a strong rushing presence even in an air-it-out era in the NFL.
“I think that’ll help us really push the offense into a direction where we do need to be a little bit more ball-controlled at times,” Patricia said Monday night. “We need to understand how to play a complementary game in all three phases, which is what we’re doing right now with special teams, offense and defense and trying to combine all that together.”
That has been Quinn and Patricia’s plan all along. It’s a plan they sold Bevell on in Orlando. In what might be their most important hire relative to the success or failure of the Quinn-Patricia regime with the Lions, they are trusting in Bevell.
“Very thorough, very well thought out,” Bevell said. “They have a specific plan of things they are trying to get done. They know what the end looks like and we’re trying to make sure we put the pieces together to try and get to the end.”