By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Until now, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has worked in one system under one head coach. That changes in 2014, so Stafford must now adjust to a different offense and a new staff.
Stafford knows the heat is on. The Lions looked capable at times in 2013 before skidding to a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs after losing six of their last seven games down the stretch and missed the playoffs. Stafford knows that the play of the team is directly connected to the play of the quarterback, and he knows there is room for improvement.
“Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do,” Stafford said Thursday. “I want to be as good as I can possibly be, and not for myself but to help this team win. That’s the No. 1 goal.”
Before getting into the practice facility this week for the start of voluntary workouts, Stafford had been watching film of the former teams of his new coaches. He wanted to get a feel for what the new Lions offense might include.
“Obviously coming into a new system, kind of tough to know what you’re going to be working, but [I] just try to pick some pieces from old film of other places and start working on some of that stuff,” Stafford said.
“I had no idea what the terminology and all that kind of stuff was going to be, just looked at routes, you can even watch it off TV tape, what they kind of run,” Stafford continued. “In the NFL there’s only so many routes. Everybody kind of runs the same one, but just kind of get a bead on what guys like and practice those.”
Stafford said he has been working out this offseason, trying to keep in shape as best as possible and also keep his arm conditioned by throwing. Stafford completed 58.5 percent of his passes last season, recording 4,650 yards. The common refrain is that the 26-year-old has all the tools to be a great passer and that he is an extremely hard worker.
Statistically, however, Stafford has regressed in recent years. His total yardage and completion percentage have both fallen in the past two seasons, and he has thrown more interceptions.
Detroit gave Stafford a significant contract extension last year, and the team committed further to extracting Stafford’s full potential by choosing a head coach (Caldwell) and an offensive coordinator (Joe Lombardi) who are former quarterbacks coaches. Not coincidentally, those two have worked with some of the best in the business, most notably Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Between coaches who are quarterback experts, a plethora of offensive weapons in Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, and an offensive line that proved remarkably solid in 2013, the idea is that Stafford should have all that he needs to succeed.
“I’ve had some really great moments, some bad moments for sure,” Stafford said. “I’m going to be learning a new system, and I want to be coached in that system as well as I can. I don’t know everything there is to know about this system, for sure, so I’m going to ask a bunch of questions and try to do everything as right as I possibly can.”
Caldwell is not concerned about Stafford learning the new playbook. While young quarterbacks who have switched from system to system to system might struggle with new terminology, the coach said, a player who has been in the same offense for several years can catch on quickly.
“Systemically you get familiarized or acquainted with a number of different concepts all across the board, from protection to run checks to concepts in terms of passing and all those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “They’re all somewhat similar, so really there’s probably not going to be too many routes that he’s not familiar with in terms of how they’re applied. The only thing that changes is the verbiage. So he has to be able to kind of translate.
“When [a quarterback has] been in one [system] for an extended period of time, they’ve usually touched on basically everything that could happen to them from a protection standpoint, maybe a couple things that are new, maybe, but for the most part, when they get to this stage, those kind of guys catch onto that kind of stuff quickly,” Caldwell continued, “and there’s always a few similarities.”
The organization is surely eager to move on from the debacle of last season, and the process starts with learning the new system and getting acquainted with all the new faces. Stafford seemed ready to keep digging in.
“Fresh opportunity, new coaches, everybody on our team has a clean slate,” Stafford said. “You have to go out and prove yourself to these coaches, get them to trust you as a player on the field and as a person off the field, so it’s exciting.”