Jack Campbell: 49ers Loss 'Eats at Me'

Campbell has strong offseason, appears ready for big second season.
Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Jack Campbell (46) tackles Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) during first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions linebacker Jack Campbell (46) tackles Minnesota Vikings tight end Josh Oliver (84) during first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports / David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
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The Detroit Lions' selection of Jack Campbell in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft was shocking to some.

National opinion didn't improve when Campbell began the season as just a rotational linebacker, with Derrick Barnes winning the spot out of training camp. However, Campbell began contributing as the team's SAM linebacker midway through the year. Though it wasn't his usual position, it was done in an effort to get him on the field.

The Iowa product appears to be ready to go a year later, as he was able to go through a complete offseason and reflect on the highs and lows of last season.

After bouncing around last year, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn shared Thursday that Campbell appears primed to take over the MIKE linebacker role and has shown the ability to handle the 'green dot' as the team's defensive play-caller.

“Let me tell you, first off he’s a man. He’s a grown man. He’s really taken control of this offseason the way that he should take control of it," Glenn said. "He’s a true MIKE backer. He’s a guy that lives, breathes green-dot mentality as a MIKE backer. He’s done a really good job, and all our guys have, of transforming their body because they’ve had a true offseason in the NFL. So he’s done a good job of that. And then just watching him on the field. His zone drop, his mentality as far as going after the football has been outstanding. We’ve only had two days of practice and he’s been doing a heckuva job. Just the way he’s leading the men, as far as defense, is impressive to see.” 

The Iowa product was pushed to grow throughout his rookie campaign, as the Lions experimented with using him in different ways. Barnes' emergence made it difficult to keep him at his traditional role, but Campbell continued to show improvement.

Now, he's got a more versatile understanding of the how the defense functions as a whole as he works to take over the MIKE linebacker position.

“I feel like last year, I was pushed some different ways to go play some different positions and I feel like that helped me a lot," Campbell explained. "Just understanding what the front-seven’s doing, but this year, just understanding what the back-end’s doing. Where’s my rotation? Where’s my help? Stuff like that. I still have a lot to improve on, but I feel like any time you can have time on task and have reps, it’s just gonna help you continue to push it but right now I’m just continuing to learn.” 

Campbell has reflected plenty on his rookie campaign and its ups and downs. However, all of his reflection leads to one specific moment that continues to eat at him from last year.

That loss to the San Francisco 49ers stung the Lions, but appears to be a motivating factor and a rallying cry for the organization as they prepare to avenge the loss in 2024.

“I would say, just what eats at me the most is just the last play of the 49ers game," Campbell explained. "My family knows it because they’re connected to me and I talk to them on a daily basis, but the amount of sacrifice it takes from the whole team to get to that point, some guys, like I remember (Jalen Reeves-Maybin) vividly telling me, ‘I’ve been in the NFL for seven years, and I haven’t even played in one playoff game.’ So just having that experience in playoffs is just important, but getting to that next level of the Super Bowl and then winning the Super Bowl, that’s what everyone’s here to do. I feel like that’s honestly probably what eats at me the most from my first year. Just having that, not stripped away from me, but that opportunity was right there and I felt like I was part of the problem of getting us over that next game.” 

Christian Booher


Sports journalist who has covered the Detroit Lions the past three NFL seasons. Christian brings expert analysis, insights and an ability to fairly assess how the team is performing in a tough NFC North division.