ALLEN PARK — The Detroit Lions feel uncomfortable getting so much respect.
The Lions opened training camp on Sunday and for the first time in many years, they’re expected to contend in the NFC North and perhaps win a playoff game for the second time since 1957.
It’s nice but somewhat unsettling for a team that’s not accustomed to receiving positive preseason attention.
“We keep the underdog mentality,” defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson said. “We haven’t won anything yet. Obviously, there’s a lot of expectations but we still feel like the underdogs.”
Those expectations were created by Detroit’s 7-2 finish last season, including a 20-16 season-ending victory in Green Bay that knocked the Packers out of the playoff picture. Detroit finished 9-8 and lost a tiebreaker to Seattle for a playoff berth.
“It’s funny to me that you go 9-8 and you don’t make the playoffs and now all of the sudden you’re the favorite,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “Of course, we’ve got good players, we’ve got good coaches, we’ve got a good team. But we haven’t done anything. … We’ve got some work to do to put a stamp on who we want to be and we’re nowhere near that yet.”
Goff is coming off a strong season in which he threw for 4,438 yards and 29 touchdowns while getting picked off just seven times. Top receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is also back but the backfield was revamped. D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are gone. Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the No. 12 pick in the draft, and Chicago free agent David Montgomery have replaced them.
Tight end Sam LaPorta was selected in the second round from Iowa and veteran Marvin Jones was signed as a free agent to bolster the receiving group.
“You add weapons to an offense that was already pretty good last year,” St. Brown said. “I think it’s going to be pretty exciting to see what we do this year.”
There’s a lot more continuity on what’s considered one of the top offensive lines in the league. Goff, not the most mobile of quarterbacks, was sacked just 23 times last season.
“The main thing that feels different offensively is just the standard of execution, the way that we operate and how much further along we are Day 1 this year from Day 1 last year,” Goff said. “That only raises your standards and expectations for yourself.”
The defensive secondary also has a new look, thanks to the free agent signings of Cameron Sutton (Pittsburgh), C.J. Gardner-Johnson (Philadelphia) and Emmanuel Moseley (San Francisco). Moseley is still recovering from an ACL injury and isn’t available for the early portion of training camp.
Wide receiver Jameson Williams, a first-round draft choice in 2022, did participate in practice and even signaled a first down after catching a pass. He won’t be available during the first six games of the regular season. Williams will serve an NFL-imposed suspension for violating the league’s gambling rules.
Otherwise, the Lions should have plenty of depth when they face defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City on the road for the nationally televised Thursday night opener on Sept. 7.
That the Lions were chosen for a showcase game shows how far they’ve come in terms of national recognition.
However, head coach Dan Campbell isn’t on board with the hype train.
“The thing has just taken off and it’s out of control right now,” he said. “That’s fine as long as we stay focused on the job and work. I just keep going back to that. We’ve got to put the work in and earn it.”