By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Many recognize Peyton Manning as one of the greatest NFL players ever and undoubtedly one of the most relentless in the thoroughness of his preparation. New Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell worked with Manning for years, and that could put positive pressure on the Lions – and on quarterback Matthew Stafford in particular.
“[Caldwell’s] been around Peyton Manning, so I think Matthew knows what his expectations are,” longtime Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “Jim’ll call him out. Ain’t no different from anybody else. Or [coordinator] Joe Lombardi’ll call him out. That’s a good thing. That’s accountability, creating more accountability.
“Guy’s a franchise,” Raiola added. “He knows what he has to do. He knows he has to do better, and he knows that he has to do it for us to be successful. I think he’s got that and I’m excited to see it.”
Last week, ahead of the start of training camp, the Lions brought in their rookies, injured veterans and quarterbacks and spent three days giving each of those groups some extra attention. Caldwell said Sunday that he was impressed with Stafford’s retention of the new offense and how he has worked on mastering it over the offseason.
“I sat down with him last week, and we talked about it.” Caldwell said. “I said, ‘You look like you’ve gotten a pretty good understanding.’ Be honest with you, there’s a little difference in terms of verbiage that you have to learn. It happens rapidly. Trying to transpose those things in your mind and then be able to verbalize them is not easy. Getting through the progressions, understanding whether checks are involved and then being able to change in terms of a snap count, something that he probably didn’t have to think about up until this past spring, all of those things are new, but I was impressed when he came back that, first of all, that he did not miss a beat. He’s a very, very smart guy.
“You can tell he’s worked at it, even during the summer,” Caldwell continued. “I understand they were getting together, throwing, obviously working his arm and working on his timing and technique and all those things, and in every facet, when he came back, I could see improvement – footwork, accuracy, timing, command of the offense, all of those things. So now we get a chance to see if we can put it together a little bit more, add a few more things, keep progressing and then get some real challenges from our opposition as we start preseason.”
Stafford showed flashes of potential last season, just as he did in a remarkable 2011 in which he completed 63.5 percent of his passes, threw for 5,038 yards and recorded 41 touchdowns. Since then, the numbers have slipped. Stafford had worked with the previous coaching regime of Jim Schwartz for his entire career, so learning a new offense is a task he is tackling for the first time as a professional.
Just like Caldwell, Raiola said Stafford has made good progress.
“He’s known one thing for five years, so of course it’d take anybody some time to learn a new offense, let alone the quarterback, the general on the field,” Raiola said. “He has to know the ins and outs, the audibles, where they line up, where the ball’s going, if this guy blitzes where to throw it. The more reps you take, the longer you’re in, you’re in this offense, the longer you’re in with Coach Lombardi, he’s gotten, we’ve gotten, a lot better.
“I’m not going to say where he’s at now,” Raiola added. “My approach this year is let’s let our play do the talking and let everything settle where it settles.”