By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said fans will definitely notice changes in Detroit’s offense when the team reveals its new look for the first time Saturday, when the Lions open their preseason slate at Ford Field against the Cleveland Browns.
“For us it’s going to be probably more multiple formations than we’re used to seeing, [than] I guess fans of the Lions are used to seeing, maybe some more motions and shifts and things of that nature,” Stafford said. “We’re still going to be an exciting offense, going to throw the ball, going to run the ball, and hopefully have some big plays.”
Just as intriguing as the new Lions offense will be the play of Stafford himself, who said he has had fun learning the system brought in by former New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, the new offensive coordinator for the Lions.
Stafford did not characterize this offseason’s changes to his game as improvement, but he did acknowledge his game is now different, and he seemed accepting of the opportunity to hit the reset button.
“I’m being coached differently, our drops are different, our reads are different, and the plays are totally different,” Stafford said. “It was kind of nice to just scrap everything and start from new with the way they wanted me to do it. I’ve been trying to embrace myself in that as much as I possibly can. It’s been fun.”
Stafford will have plenty of options in the pass game, with veteran wide receivers in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate as well as Kevin Ogletree, who seems to have blossomed with the benefit of a full offseason with Lions after they picked him up during last season. Stafford was complimentary of the players farther down the roster, too.
“We’ve had some young guys that we drafted or picked up last year that have come on, and you can tell that year-one-to-year-two growth has been good for them,” Stafford said. “From top to bottom it’s as good a receiving corps as we’ve had here since I’ve been here for sure.”
In addition to the wide receivers, Stafford will have a diverse set of generally bigger and taller targets in tight ends Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron. Between them, the wide receivers and the running backs – in particular Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure and Theo Riddick – the Lions hope to have opponents’ heads spinning throughout games.
“We did a decent job of moving guys in different positions last year, but we’re going to make it I think tougher on teams to understand where guys are going to line up and what their split’s going to be, if they’re going to be motioning or not,” Stafford said. “All that kind of stuff just helps guys – on the outside helps guys with releases and in the run game helps with angles and things of that nature.”
One hang-up of the Lions in 2013 was turnovers, but Lombardi said Thursday that Stafford has not thrown a single interception in team drills throughout camp. Asked to confirm Friday, Stafford jokingly said he appreciates the coach jinxing him but then gave credit to his teammates.
“Obviously a focus of the offseason is trying to make sure we’re smart with the football, and we’ve been able to do that,” Stafford said. “That’s not just me – it’s the o-line blocking, it’s if a ball’s close the receiver knocking it down, all that kind of stuff. It’s been an emphasis, and we’ve done well so far.”
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell would not divulge which players the team has decided to hold out of Saturday’s game. Ebron and Johnson, who both missed practice Thursday – Ebron for a minor injury and Johnson as an excused absence – were back on the field at Friday’s practice.
Caldwell said Detroit will not leave the first team out longer than usual during the game because of the new offense. Instead, he said he and the staff will determine ahead of time how many plays or series each player needs and work with the flow of the game to make the necessary reps happen.
“We talk about it in both regards, actually, because of the fact that you can’t tell – if the opposition gets the ball and they have an eight-minute drive and you were only going to play a group the first quarter, then you’ve got to rethink it,” Caldwell said. “It just kind of depends. We have our parameters set and kind of know how to judge and adjust it accordingly.”