May 22, 2024

Broncos coach Sean Payton on former assistant Dan Campbell: “He’s a close friend, a fantastic coach”

As the lone remaining NFC team on Denver’s schedule, the Detroit Lions are a bit of an outlier.

These teams don’t play all that frequently.

The Broncos most recently hosted Detroit in 2021 and 2019 and haven’t visited the Motor City since early in a 7-0 start to the 2015 season.

But it would be difficult to find an opponent — and, more particularly, an opposing coach — more familiar to Sean Payton.

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Payton’s known Lions coach Dan Campbell for the better part of 25 years and has watched and aided as Campbell went from third-round draft pick to long-time player to young assistant coach to trusted top lieutenant to now one of the most respected head men in the league.

Payton was on the New York Giants staff when Campbell was drafted, first as the quarterbacks coach and then as the offensive coordinator. When Payton moved to Dallas, the Cowboys signed Campbell.

“I was part of the reason we were able to sign Dan as a free agent to the Cowboys,” Payton said Monday while explaining the depth and length of their relationship. “Eventually, I signed Dan to the Saints. He got injured and that’s where his career ended.”

Campbell’s coaching career began with six years in Miami, but then Payton brought him to New Orleans, where he served as tight ends coach and assistant head coach to Payton for six more years before he got the Lions head coaching job in early 2021.

“He’s a close friend, a fantastic coach and someone I’ve always enjoyed working with,” Payton said.

Campbell’s Lions went 3-13-1 in his first season, then 9-8 last year and have a vice grip on the NFC North this year at 9-4, despite losing to Green Bay and Chicago two of the past three weeks.

Saturday night will mark the first time Payton and Campbell have squared off as opposing head coaches.

Interestingly enough, it will be Payton trying to emulate something Campbell’s done as a coach rather than the mentee chasing the mentor.

Detroit, as it happens, started last year 1-6 before getting hot and making a run toward the postseason. It ultimately came up short. The Lions beat Green Bay in Week 18 despite having been eliminated by the time kickoff arrived. Even still, the Lions won eight of their final 10 games and set the groundwork for what’s turned into a surefire playoff team this fall.

Payton’s Broncos, of course, have won six of their past seven and have to keep winning in order to punch a ticket to the postseason over the next four weeks.

Back when Denver was sitting at 1-5, Payton pointed to Campbell’s team last year as one to replicate. He talked of watching the Lions’ surge while serving as an analyst at Fox and marveling at the team’s “grit” and “mental toughness.”

Campbell saw resurgence in Denver under Payton coming all the way back in March at the NFL’s spring ownership meetings in Arizona.

“He’s energetic, he’s highly intelligent, he’s very demanding,” Campbell said of Payton then. “He’s innovative. He’s always been innovative. He’s going to give clear communication. Everybody in the building and everyone in that locker room is going to know exactly where he stands with him.

“He’s going to get it turned is what he’s going to do. He’s going to get it turned. Now, I don’t know when, but it’s going to happen.”

Turns out, it happened at almost exactly the same point in the season as it did for Campbell a year ago.

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“At 1-5, we just pointed to a similar situation a year ago,” Payton said. “In other words, a team who was 1-6 and was able to flip the script.

“That was really it.”

Now here the Broncos are, with an opportunity to take another step forward and a familiar foe standing on the other sideline, squarely in the way.

Injury updates. The Broncos did not practice Tuesday but provided an estimate on the injury front for several players. Most notably: Offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz, who was hospitalized overnight in Los Angeles due to an elevated heart rate he reported during Sunday’s game, would have been a full participant in practice, the team said.

The extent of Nik Bonitto’s left knee injury is not yet known — Payton declined to provide an update Monday — but he would not have practiced. Nor would safety P.J. Locke (neck). Outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper (ankle) would have been limited and running back Samaje Perine (knee) a full participant.

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