Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn couldn't stop smiling after the club drafted Aidan Hutchinson second overall. Defensive line coach Todd Wash went a couple steps further:
"As they say growing up in North Dakota on a farm, I was happy as a pig in poop," Wash said Wednesday on the Stoney & Jansen Show. "There’s other ways of saying that, but I was really excited. We got a heck of a football player, but more importantly, we got a pro."
Wash is even happier now. The dirtier Hutchinson gets, the more he seems to shine. He had arguably his best practice of training camp Tuesday when he moved inside and outside and blew up the O-line from both positions.
"He can play inside on third down and when he gets on a guard, look the hell out," said Wash.
This is part of the Lions' plan. Glenn first noticed Hutchinson's versatility when he was watching his freshman year film before the draft. Back then, Michigan was playing him mostly in the trenches. Glenn immediately cut up some clips to show Dan Campbell, and their gears started spinning: "Man, how can we use this guy in different situations?" said Glenn. They're beginning to find out.
"I’m a very versatile player and they’re using me that way, they’re putting me just about everywhere," Hutchinson said after Tuesday's practice. "I know wherever they put me, I’m going to dominate and be the player that I am."
Hutchinson keeps his head down, but he does not lack confidence. Since OTA's with the Lions this spring, he has downplayed the transition from college to the NFL. He has called it 'seamless.' On Tuesday he called it 'smooth.' He respects the challenge without bowing to it.
"It’s just football at the end of the day," Hutchinson said. "It’s what I do."
By trade, the Lions drafted a pass rusher. GM Brad Holmes would say they drafted a 'football player.' Hutchinson has the potential to impact the defense -- that is, disrupt the offense -- on every snap. This is crucial as the Lions switch to a more aggressive four-man front and try to generate pressure up and down the D-line.
"It really fits to who we are," said Wash. "It allows us to take the fight to the offensive line."
Hutchinson said it's been three years since he consistently rushed from the interior. Sounds like he's re-acclimating quickly: he said he's "feeling a lot better with it" with each day. The Lions will still use him primarily off the edge, where Hutchinson said he feels more comfortable, but they aren't limiting him to being an edge defender.
"I’m getting used to just playing everywhere and being a versatile player," he said.
On Monday, in the Lions' first padded practice of camp, Hutchinson lost a few reps. At one point, he got thrown off his feet by T.J. Hockenson on a block he didn't see coming. He also learned a few lessons. By Tuesday, he was back on the attack. His feel for the game will serve him well as a rookie. To Wash, it's part of Hutchinson's 'it' factor.
"I don’t know what the hell 'it' is, but he has it," said Wash. "He takes pride in everything he does, not only in the classroom but obviously on the field. We really appreciate how hard he work every day. We all know, he’s still a rookie and there’s going to be some growing pains. But I know he has the mental fortitude to fight through that stuff and be a productive player," said Wash.
For Hutchinson, growth doesn't seem painful. He brushed aside the reps he lost and said, "You're not going to win them all, especially at this level." In his mind, what matters is winning the next one. He can sound cavalier, like the NFL is no big deal. He is closer to self-assured. Wash said Hutchinson arrived without "ego." Campbell said he's letting his play do the talking, especially around his teammates.
"Just because he was a first-round pick doesn’t mean that he’s got the respect of everybody in here," Campbell said. "He’s got to earn that, and he understands it. So he goes out there and just works his ass off in practice and then in meetings, he keeps his mouth shut until he’s asked a question. That’s exactly what you want in a rookie."