Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett shares his immediate thoughts after the Detroit Lions hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press

Sage Rosenfels didn’t take a single snap in his one season playing for new Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, but as the backup to Brett Favre, Rosenfels heard every single play call Bevell dialed up during the Minnesota Vikings’ 2009 season.

“I’m the backup quarterback and I’m observing, and of course as a backup you’re always going, like, ‘What would I call in this situation?’” Rosenfels said. “And I felt like when Bevell was calling plays that year and it would come through my headset, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the perfect call.’ I remember many, many times that year thinking that, that he found that play on his call sheet and it jumped out at me that it was sort of the perfect play to call in that situation.”

The Lions hired Bevell, 49, and a disciple of the West Coast offense, as their new offensive coordinator Wednesday. And while Bevell is best known for his run-heavy schemes that led the Vikings to an NFC championship game and the Seattle Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls, two quarterbacks who played for him said he’s a quarterback-friendly play caller whose arrival should help Matthew Stafford and the Lions.

“He’s going to be very quarterback friendly,” said Tarvaris Jackson, who started games for Bevell both in Minnesota and Seattle. “Whatever you’re comfortable with, he’s going to make sure you get. Of course you’re going to have some stuff that you’ll scheme up against, but a lot of the times, he’s going to cater to what you’re doing and definitely you’re going to see some play calls that’s within the rhythm of the game.”

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Bevell played quarterback in college at Wisconsin, where he led the Badgers to their first ever Rose Bowl victory, and he worked exclusively with the position early in his NFL career.

He was Favre’s quarterbacks coach with the Green Bay Packers from 2003-05 (and the assistant quarterbacks coach for three seasons before that), coached two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers as a rookie and was part of the Seattle contingent that drafted and developed Russell Wilson.

Wilson had the four most prolific passing seasons of his career with Bevell calling plays, and Jackson said Bevell was flexible enough as coordinator to reshape his offense after he moved from Minnesota to Seattle.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn cited being “adaptable” as one of the most important traits he and coach Matt Patricia wanted in their next coordinator earlier this month.

“The year that we had Brett Favre, I know we ran the football but we also, we had a 4,000-yard passer and had a Pro Bowl receiver, Pro Bowl tight end, (running) back, everybody,” Jackson said. “He was able to get it done and he was more of a balanced guy. But if Marshawn (Lynch) is the best part of our team and our offensive line play, that’s what we did.

“I guess you’ve just got to cater to the guys on your offense.”

The Vikings ranked in the top half of the NFL in rushing in each of Bevell’s five seasons calling plays, the last four of them with Adrian Peterson in the backfield.


New Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks, but also lost one on a famously ineffective play call.
Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press

In Seattle, with Lynch shouldering much of the workload, the Seahawks ranked in the top four in the NFL in rushing from 2012-15.

More: Here’s what to expect from Lions under new OC Darrell Bevell

But Rosenfels, who played 12 seasons with five different teams, said he saw Bevell’s offense take on a different shape after he left Minnesota.

“I thought the offense (we ran in Minnesota), it was not complicated, it was, I would actually say, fairly basic,” Rosenfels said. “I know that probably had a lot to do with (head coach) Brad Childress and I’ve always recalled that when (Bevell) left Minnesota and he went to Seattle, and as I watched Seattle film regularly, I saw a lot of things that we didn’t do. I saw much more advancement and diverse offense. The things that he was doing with Russell Wilson, that was different than what Brad Childress wanted in his offense in 2009.”

So what does that mean for Stafford and the Lions?

Well, Stafford isn’t likely to run many of the zone-read concepts Bevell introduced in Seattle for Wilson, and Kerryon Johnson probably won’t get 20-plus carries a game like Peterson did in Minnesota.

Patricia has said he wants a balanced offense, and to be strong in the trenches, and Jackson said Bevell can do that while highlighting his new quarterback’s strengths.

“Stafford, his career has been, he’s been a great passer, throw the ball all over the yard,” Jackson said. “I think it’s a little bit different lately as far as he’s running the ball a little bit more and it just hasn’t been solely put on his shoulders. I think Bev will help him understand a lot of it’s just about getting the ball out of your hand and getting the ball to your playmakers, and like I said, understanding the details. But Matt’s been around for a while now and he’ll just bring something different to the table, see it from a different perspective.”

Jackson, like Rosenfels, said he appreciated the detail and preparation Bevell put into his game plans and what that meant as a play caller.

“Like Sage said, it’s never been a time where a call came through the headset and I’m like, ‘Wow, what the hell is this?’” Jackson said. “There’s never been that type situation.”

Even in Super Bowl XLIX, when the Seahawks, with Bevell as offensive coordinator, lost to the New England Patriots, with Patricia as defensive coordinator, when Wilson threw an interception on second-and-goal from the 1 with 26 seconds to play.

Jackson, who was part of the Seahawks team that won the Super Bowl a year earlier with Bevell as offensive coordinator, said there were two play calls that went out on Wilson’s interception, one for a run and one for a pass.

The Patriots were playing a goal-line defense with three cornerbacks on the field and a stacked defensive line that made running the ball nearly impossible, so Wilson rightly checked to the pass play, a rub route to the right intended for Ricardo Lockette.

Malcolm Butler jumped the route for an interception on a poorly thrown pass.

“It was a run and a pass, and they just came out in a front where we couldn’t block them,” Jackson said. “They outnumbered us in the front, so we had to alert to the pass and that’s just what it was. Nine times out of 10, you don’t expect that to happen. You expect an incompletion or a touchdown, that’s it. It could have been executed better, to be honest, but we can’t blame that on (Bevell).”

Jackson said Bevell dialed up the perfect play call to get the Seahawks to the Super Bowl two weeks earlier in an overtime win over the Packers, when Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown in overtime against a blitzing man-to-man defense with no safety help deep.

“When Russell made the check and threw the post to Jermaine Kearse, we talked about it on the sideline, we knew pretty much what they was going to give us and we was expecting it,” Jackson said. “And it was just like practice. He made the check, Russ made the check and the rest is history, we’re in the Super Bowl.”

And now, the Lions hope history will repeat itself, with Bevell calling the plays.

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!