2020 Senior Bowl Recap: Detroit Lions Coached North Team Wins 34-17

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After a tough 2019 season, the 2020 Senior Bowl was a great opportunity for Matt Patricia and his coaching staff to reset, and get back on track.

The 2020 Senior Bowl Was A Success For The Detroit Lions Coaching Staff

One thing we haven’t seen a lot of from the Detroit Lions in the past few months was pure happiness. In most press appearances featuring players or coaches disappointment was worn on their sleeves. Losses were stacking up, and every week it drained more on the organization and its staff. So, when the Lions got the chance to coach the Senior Bowl this year, it provided a spot that could help lighten the mood coming off a rough 2019 season for everyone from fans to coaches.

The week ended up feeling like it was a different universe than the 2019 season, and it may have provided a look ahead toward what could be coming in the 2020 season. Everything from new coaches Brayden Coombs and Cory Undlin working with players to the positive mindset and attitude the coaching staff exhibited, this did not look like the 2019 Detroit Lions. This looked like what fans want the 2020 Detroit Lions to look like.

The 2020 Senior Bowl gave the coaches a chance to work together and bond as a staff, while growing and developing themselves and their own teaching skills just as much as it did developing the players. This showed the fans of the Lions what we’ve been wanting to see since Matt Patricia was first hired, and what some have known he could be since then. For as impressive a week as Matt Patricia had this week in Mobile, some credit should be given to his assistants for what they were able to do down in Mobile this week as well.

Matt Patricia Shows His Skills As A Head Coach

The practices during 2020 Senior Bowl week just felt different than they had in the past. It all comes back to the coaching and leadership and growth of Matt Patricia. The more time passes, the more experience he gains, he grows from “defensive minded coach” to a “head football coach”. One criticism Matt Patricia received in the past is that he was known as a defensive genius and was basically a glorified defensive coordinator. This week things changed significantly, he worked with every single position group, every single practice.

Patricia spent time working with Shea Patterson, a quarterback from the University of Michigan on taking snaps from under center. Additionally, he worked with the running back group, specifically Josh Kelley the UCLA running back (who had a great Senior Bowl game as well) on finding the right rushing lanes in the team’s hybrid blocking scheme. As a former offensive lineman himself, he worked with the offensive linemen and assisted with blocking techniques. In addition to that, he also spent some time watching, evaluating, and working with the pass catchers and developing their skill sets as well. While he may be a former defensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, he is now obviously the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He showed significant growth in that area down in Mobile.

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Has Patricia Evolved To More Of A Players’ Coach?

His work with the offense would end up paying dividends. Patricia was able to find a balance between empowering and trusting his assistant coaches, while still working on and coaching what he wanted to fix himself. A perfect example of this was Jordan Love. Jordan Love spent a lot of reps on the sidelines absorbing information from Darrell Bevell this week. He also worked on some mechanical elements and techniques with Sean Ryan. Yet when Love made a good play or a bad play, Matt Patricia was always someone who could jump in and motivate or teach as needed. This was especially true during the 2020 Senior Bowl game itself. After his opening drive, he was on the sideline right next to Matt Patricia going over teaching points for what to work on during the next drive.

Coach Patricia has grown and evolved from someone who never spent much time with the offense in his first year in Detroit to someone who now looks to be comfortable working with all position groups regardless which side of the ball they’re playing on.

Matt Patricia Coached NFL Practices Rather Than Media Showcases

Early in Senior Bowl week, following the first day of practice, there were some national media pundits who vocalized distaste for the way Matt Patricia was running his practices. Criticisms ranged from making players stretch too long, to not conducting enough individual drills. However, as the week progressed it became clear, even to his critics, that Patricia was focused on doing what was what was best for the players. The North team took part in real NFL practices, not media exhibitions. Matt Patricia coached his players in Mobile as he coached his Detroit Lions teams in Allen Park. Tempo was a focal point, with quick transitions between drills. Most importantly though, he was also able to evaluate their ability to learn, adjust, and grow with every rep. while gaining valuable scouting/draft information along the way.

Matt Patricia was able to see which players could handle his, and other coaches, practices at the NFL level and showcased which players were most ready to make the jump to the next level. He showcased which players could adjust, and learned how to take coaching well. Players who could improve over the course of the week got to show their ability to improve and grow. As a result, they are going to see their stocks rise in NFL circles following a strong week of practices. Patricia put his team through a rigorous series of practices to ensure that they were prepared not only from a technical perspective, but also a mental one for Saturday afternoon’s game against the South team.

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2020 Senior Bowl Showcases Future Stars

Players who had taken his coaching to heart over the course of the week were some of the standouts of the 2020 Senior Bowl. The first of many players who stood out during the game was Utah Utes defensive lineman Bradley Anae.

Anae came into the Senior Bowl as a player who already had a good catalog of pass rush moves. Following some work with Bo Davis and Matt Patricia, however, he gave teams a glimpse of his ceiling in the National Football League. He was a force to be reckoned with and was almost unblockable all game long for the North. The Bengals staff who coached the South tried several different offensive lineman against him and he found ways to beat all of them. It was impressive to see Anae refine his craft in the 2020 Senior Bowl practices, and apply what he learned in-game. Doing so helped him find continued success. He ended up finishing the game with a multitude of sacks, and generating pressure at least once or twice per possession.

The University of Michigan Made A Good Showing

Another player who stood out was Michigan Wolverine linebacker Josh Uche. Uche has potential at the NFL level to play off the ball. His speed and technique set him apart from most at his position. However, in the 2020 Senior Bowl he was mostly utilized as a JACK pass rusher, the role Devon Kennard currently plays in Detroit. Like Anae, Uche spent time this week working on and refining some of his pass rush moves, his burst off the line of scrimmage, and his ability to bend around the end. He ended up dominating from the very first drive of the game, in which he almost sacked Justin Herbert before backing off for a split second (forgetting that it was”game on” and no longer practice where quarterbacks were untouchable). Still, Uche ended up doing a fantastic job showcasing an array of skills that will translate directly to the NFL.

One more player who really improved his stock this week was UCLA running back Joshua Kelley. Kelley, like Anae and Uche, spent time with Matt Patricia working on his cutting ability, his vision, his ability to find holes in the run game, as well as to read his blocks and keys properly during practice this week. In the game Kelley would end up running for over 100 yards, an impressive total given the talent on the South team’s defensive line this week. He consistently found the right running lanes, and showed an ability to change direction on par with what he showed in practice all week. When talking about Kelley after the game Saturday afternoon, Matt Patricia praised him as someone who had been consistent all week and “we can work with that”.

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Matt Patricia Showed His Lighter Side

One thing that also stood out during his time in Mobile, is just how much fun and enjoyment Patricia showed in coaching these young players. He was constantly joking, laughing, smiling, and enjoying coaching his team this week.

Even how he interacted with the media over the course of the week in Mobile was impressive. He was openly joking with Tom Pelissero of NFL Network on the sideline during the game. At the end of one interview he said, “with the third pick, we’re going to take…” before walking away from the interview and smiling. He ended up coming back to Pelissero after the next play and saying “the draft is great, the evaluation is great, but one of the best connections I made was with the Reese’s guy.” sharing another laugh with the NFL Network crew before the interview ended and the coverage returned to the game.

Additionally we got to see Matt Patricia’s love for his players showcased this week as well. ESPN raved about his care for his players on and off the field throughout the week and how he showed with frequency that he wanted what was best for his players. Whether that be during his one-on-one moments with them, how he led them in the large group as a team, or with his conditioning and the way he ran practice, he wanted the players to get the most out of their experience down in Mobile this week as well.

The Players Were Patricia’s Focus This Week

One moment that particularly stood out was with three seconds left in the game, Coach Patricia called a time out and called for the field goal unit. Kicker Tyler Bass from Georgia Southern had an impressive Thursday practice in which he hit the upright from almost 60 yards. So, Matt Patricia decided to give him, as well as the holder, the long snapper, and some other special teams players, one final rep to showcase themselves for NFL scouts. A 51-yard kick absolutely split the uprights with plenty of room to spare, as the North team won the 2020 Senior Bowl 31-17.

It was a long week of tough practices,  learning, teaching, and development for both coaches and players. It was also a week of fun media interactions, and doing what he loves to do most, coaching football. In the end, Matt Patricia was showered in Gatorade by the players he coached this week. The players who learned from him, grew with him, and won for him in his first game of 2020.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow @C_Robbins_ on Twitter, and leave me your thoughts on the Detroit Lions Subreddit! Check out some of Chris’s other articles for the Detroit Lions Podcast here.

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