By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford likes what new head coach Jim Caldwell has planned for the Lions offense in 2014. Despite the significant amount of work required to learn the new system, Stafford says he and his teammates are enjoying the process.
“It’s quite a bit different, but it’s fun learning something new,” Stafford said Thursday. “It’s a challenge for everybody in our locker room to learn it. I think guys are accepting that, having fun. [When] we do call a play and execute it well, it’s fun to think about doing that 60, 70 times a game and seeing where we could go.
“I try to learn what everybody’s doing at this point and help them out if they have questions, breaking the huddle or whatever it is,” Stafford continued. “Guys are doing a great job. They’re taking responsibility. They have to own this offense and they’re doing a good job of starting that. By no means are we anywhere close to owning the whole thing, for sure. We’re just installing little tidbits of base stuff, but guys are working and trying to put their best foot forward.”
The normal NFL offseason consists of three phases. The first phase includes only strength work, conditioning and rehabilitation. In the second phase, players can do on-field drills as long as those drills are not offense-versus-defense. In the third phase, teams can do 7-on-7, 9-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills, though no live contact is allowed. Because the Lions have a new staff, they have gotten to jump the gun, in a sense.
“With this particular phase, actually it’s like a phase three, but because of the fact that we’re a new staff, we had an opportunity for a voluntary mini-camp,” Caldwell said Thursday. “It put us a phase ahead, for the most part, for three days. Now we go back to phase two, where we have a limited amount of time on the field. You can’t do any offense vs. defense, which we could do during this voluntary mini-camp. So, basically, we’re going to be working against air and in some times, inanimate objects, barrels and things of that nature. But that’s how we have to learn and the system is set up that way. We’ll be able to, I think, still accomplish a lot.”
Caldwell has been impressed by Stafford’s talent all along but was particularly pleased with how the quarterback has approached learning the new system and how he has worked to help his teammates do the same.
“Having the chance to see him work was great,” Caldwell said. “He has just an incredible way about him, too. You can see his teammates kind of gravitate toward him. He’s a very good leader and he works at it. I mean, anything that you tell him, you talk to him about, he’s listening intently and he’s working at it.”
In particular, Stafford has been working on developing chemistry with new Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, who signed with Detroit this offseason after winning a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks. Tate said communication has been a focus for him and Stafford.
“We need to get on the same page vocally,” Tate said Wednesday. “Any time we miss a ball, I’m going straight to him. ‘Did I look back, turn my head late? Did that feel right? What can I do better?’ And I think that’s where it starts, just talking it out because I can’t read his mind, he can’t read my mind, so we’re just talking it out. We try to fix it the next time, and if we don’t have another play like that, we’ll do it on the side. We’ll run the play on the side and try to get our timing down.
“It’s still early – that’s the good thing about it,” Tate added, “and I think our chemistry right now is not bad at all, so I think it’ll only get better.”
Stafford is known for having a cannon for an arm, and Tate can confirm that assessment.
“His balls definitely get there quicker,” Tate said. “His placement’s great. He’s placed some balls on air and 7-on-7 that I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a great ball.’ For instance, I run a basic route which is a 10-to-12 yard in and he’s put in right there on the dot where I can split the safeties and potentially score, so I’m excited about that. He’s made some good decisions thus far, and like I said, I’m excited for this offense. I think we have potential to be a top five most-explosive team in the league.”