Lions To Unleash Stafford In 2010

Although the Detroit Lions had faith in quarterback Matthew Stafford's ability to make changes at the line of scrimmage last season, they hand-cuffed their rookie quarterback for rather tangible reasons: he didn't have the necessary talent around him. That has changed in 2010.

It was never a question of ability.

Although the Detroit Lions had faith in quarterback Matthew Stafford's capability to make changes at the line of scrimmage last season, they hand-cuffed their rookie quarterback for rather tangible reasons: he didn't have the necessary talent around him.

That has changed in 2010.

"We sort of held Matt back last year," coach Jim Schwartz said. "Matt was a lot further along than we were offensively. There were things he could do that we didn't have other pieces around him to be able to do."

Stafford has new weapons like wide receiver Nate Burleson, tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Jahvid Best. Last year's top overall draft pick is also past the knee and shoulder injuries he suffered last season, and throwing the ball with full authority again.

He has been impressive during organized team activities.

In one particular practice, Stafford pumped-faked to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, whom defenses smothered last season. As the coverage shifted to Johnson, Stafford fired a rocket over the middle to Burleson, whom the Lions signed to make defenses pay for paying so much attention to Johnson.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had a huge smile on his face afterward.

"They were trying to zone us off, which creates small pockets," Burleson said. "Most defenses, they kind of bank on the fact that a lot of quarterbacks are scared to attack those small pockets. I'm probably thinking that Linehan was smiling because we have a quarterback that can fit anything into any small pocket."

Earlier that day, Stafford fired a pass through three defenders to tight end Will Heller, who dropped the ball apparently because he was surprised it got to him. Burleson said Stafford had noticed all the defenders' helmets were turned, and knowing they weren't looking at him, it was safe to take a shot.

"That's strength, confidence and also a little bit of moxie," Burleson said. "You've got to be cocky to make that throw, and I love it."

Stafford wasn't the popular pick when the Lions drafted him No. 1 overall last year. Fans chanted for linebacker Aaron Curry.

But Stafford has started to win over the city, especially after he threw the game-winning touchdown with no time left Nov. 22 against Cleveland one play after suffering an AC joint separation. And he has won over the locker room.

"Anytime a rookie comes in, particularly a guy that was drafted No. 1 overall and that's paid that kind of contract, there's going to be suspicion," Schwartz said. "There's going to be people in the locker room and fans and people in the media that are going to take a wait-and-see approach with it, and then after you go through it and they get more comfortable, then that dynamic is out the window.

"It's no longer about proving yourself. It's about improving."


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