Lions’ new offense refreshing, challenging for Stafford

Matthew Stafford is coming off a season in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns during his team's 1-6 slide down the stretch.

Paul Sancya

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — On the outside, the criticism this offseason was pretty severe for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Inside the Lions’ headquarters, however, it’s been refreshing for him.

Stafford is coming off a season in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns during his team’s 1-6 slide down the stretch, but there’s an exciting new look around him.

"There were definitely some fun challenges for me, learning a new offense, learning new coaches, just getting to know them," Stafford said Monday following the team’s first training camp practice. "That part of it is fun. It was a challenge but we’re excited about it.

"I think this offense does a great job of creating leverage, creating releases for receivers, creating good angles for runners.  We do that with alignment, bunches, stacks, spread them out. Just a lot of different things to look at for a defense."

After five years with the same coach (Jim Schwartz) and offensive coordinator (Scott Linehan), the Lions shook things up after last season and no one was affected more than Stafford.

He has three coaches working with him — head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterback coach Jim Bob Cooter — who have significant experience with elite-level quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco.

Lombardi, a former QB coach for New Orleans, has brought over many elements of the Saints’ offense, including more motion and different formations.

It all took Stafford out of a comfort zone, which could be a good thing at this point in his career.

Caldwell said Stafford has embraced the change.

"I think the challenge of running a new system has really piqued his interest," Caldwell said. "It’s also going to give him a different array of plays that he can use.

"I love his attitude. Anytime you have a guy that buys in quickly and keeps after it 100 percent, you have to be pleased."

Stafford, 26, has been spending time trying to learn from the Super Bowl experiences of his coaches, not to mention new teammates such as receiver Golden Tate (last year with Seattle).

Stafford said he and the rest of the players who haven’t been played on a championship team can benefit from those experiences.

"Just talking to those guys and being able to pick their brain and talk to them about what it took," he said. "Just having those guys around the building, I think, means a lot to us. We can all learn from it. That’s something we haven’t had in the past.

"Anytime you want to sit down and talk to them about it, they’ve got a good story. They can just tell you what it takes. Every team is different that wins the Super Bowl. You’ve got to take bits and pieces of the positives and try to put them into your team if they fit and make it work."

Tate, a free-agent addition, missed the team’s mini-camp last month because of a shoulder injury and was expected to be out the first part of this training camp.

However, he ended up getting cleared by the medical staff and was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list Monday morning.

"It was great to see him out there," Stafford said. "The quarterback-receiver combination is all about trust and timing. You develop that out here on the practice field."

It is six weeks before the regular-season opener, but Stafford said it felt great to be back on the field.

I think the challenge of running a new system has really piqued his interest.

Jim Caldwell

This wasn’t some OTA or mini-camp. This is the real camp.

"It’s different," Stafford said. "The vibe is there. It’s right around the corner. We still have a grind. Sometimes it’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s nice. You know that it’s only a few weeks off that you’re playing football games that count. That’s what we all do this for is to go out there on Sundays."

EXTRA POINTS

— Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a second-round draft pick, left the afternoon practice early because of a thumb injury. It was not clear whether he will miss more time.

— The Lions announced Monday night that they have released defensive end Kalonji Kashama, an undrafted rookie from Eastern Michigan.