ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Ask 100 Detroit Lions fans the following question: "The Lions will be a playoff team if …"
Probably 99 of them will respond: "Matthew Stafford has a great season."
That’s life in the NFL for a quarterback. Stafford, entering his sixth year in the league, knew the extreme spotlight — for better or worse, right or wrong — was going to be focused squarely on him from the very start.
"Probably the first day I walked in here," Stafford said. "You just know. You look at teams that win Super Bowls and play deep into the playoffs — (their) quarterbacks are playing at a high level."
It’s no secret that Stafford has to be at a much higher level than last season when he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes while the team suffered a 1-6 collapse in the final seven games to knock them out of the playoff contention.
Stafford, with a new offensive system in place and more weapons around him, indicated he’s embracing the pressure and expectations that go with his job.
"That’s something that I’ve always tried to do and hold myself to that standard," he said. "This season is no different.
"The one thing you can’t do is get ahead of yourself. I think you just have to go out there and work hard every single day and try and be as good as you possibly can every single week for your team."
Asked to define what playing at a high level would be for him this year, Stafford answered, "It’s tough to put numbers on it. You just want to go out there and make good throws, make good decisions, limit turnovers, make sure we’re in the right play every time if you can.
"Lead this team, that’s the biggest thing. Score points and keep the ball."
And win games, make the playoffs, even win a playoff game.
That would wipe away the all that negativity still associated with Stafford from last season.
Nate Freese, the Lions’ seventh-round draft pick this year, has gotten all of the kicking opportunities early in preseason games so far, but that is going to change Friday against Jacksonville.
Coach Jim Caldwell said that Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio, the other kicker involved in a tight competition for the No. 1 job, will rotate from the start of the game.
It’s the best indication so far from Caldwell that Tavechhio is indeed a serious contender for the job.
At times, in fact, Tavecchio, has outperformed Freese during training camp, but it was always Freese getting the quality playing time.
"One will kick the first opportunity, then the next guy will kick the next opportunity and we’ll go back and forth so we can get a little different evaluation rather than waiting till the second half to give Georgio a shot," Caldwell said.
"There’s some fairness there. It gives both guys an opportunity to kick in a portion of the game that’s similar. We just think we can probably do a little bit better job evaluating if we do it that way."
Caldwell said the competition is so tight that it’s "day-to-day."
Or, perhaps, even kick-to-kick.
Freese, for instance, missed an extra point last week against Oakland but he redeemed himself by making a 55-yard field goal later in the game.
"It’s hard," Caldwell said. "Those guys have been kicking well in practice. There’s one or two (kicks) here and there that somebody might have missed.
"But the competition has been good. It’s been difficult for us to sort out."
— For the first time in the preseason, punter Sam Martin will handle the kickoff duties, at least to open the game. Martin held that role last season as a rookie, along with being the punter and holder.
— Caldwell said that doctors have determined a neck injury suffered by safety DeJon Gomes is "not a long-term injury."
— Caldwell, on a report that he had given Stafford drills to work on while he was interviewing for the Lions’ coaching job last January: "I didn’t even have the job. I wasn’t that confident. I’ve got an ego but I don’t have an ego problem."
— Caldwell: "I’m not a coffee drinker. That’s ironic, right, for a coach not to drink coffee?"
Asked why he doesn’t need the java, Caldwell, 59, said, "I’m young."
— Cornerback Drayton Florence, signed 12 days ago by the Lions, was released on Tuesday.