ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford quieted most of his critics last year.
Now he needs to silence them.
There were serious doubts at this time a year ago whether Stafford could stay healthy long enough to showcase his elite arm in the NFL.
But he showed that he could, playing through a hand injury and starting every game while leading his team to the playoffs.
Oh yeah, Stafford also became one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
However, when former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, now an analyst for ESPN, ranked the league’s top quarterbacks entering this season, he put Stafford at only No. 14.
Many who watched him closely throughout last season believe that’s too low, that Stafford belongs in the top 10. Some of the debatable choices ahead of him include Chicago’s Jay Cutler (No. 8), Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (No. 9), Dallas’ Tony Romo (No. 10), Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (No. 11), Philadelphia’s Michael Vick (No. 12) and Houston’s Matt Schaub (No. 13).
Stafford took the hit without punching back.
“Jaws knows what he’s talking about,” Stafford said. “He’s a good guy. He played in this league for a long time. He knows what it takes to win.
“That’s not something that’s really a concern to me, to tell you the truth. I just want my teammates and the guys on that field to think I’m the best that’s on the field. As long as they think that, then we’re good.”
Jaworski wasn’t really all that critical of Stafford. He simply feels that Stafford needs to prove he’s not injury-prone for more than that one season.
Stafford, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 NFL draft coming out of Georgia, missed a lot of time during his first two years in the league because of shoulder injuries.
In those two seasons, he played in a total of 13 games (the Lions won three) and completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards, with 19 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
Last season, when the Lions went 10-6, Stafford completed 63.5 percent for 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
“Another full season with similar production and there’s no question Stafford is a top-10 quarterback,” Jaworski said. “He’s an elite arm. I just need to see durability and performance over a longer period of time.”
Although Stafford took the high road when it came to the No. 14 ranking, he quite likely will be motivated to some extent by the slight.
Shortly before answering the question about Jaworski, Stafford was asked what drives him coming off such a prolific season.
“A lot of things,” he said. “I think you play for respect, not only from your teammates but other players in the league, coaches.
“Greatness. I just want to be great. Putting in work is what you have to do. That’s something that’s fun and enjoyable to me.”
Based on his performance on the very first day of training camp, it was clear that Stafford put in a lot of work during the offseason to try to take another step toward greatness.
Coach Jim Schwartz has been impressed with the body transformation he’s seen from Stafford, who is 6-foot-3, 235 pounds.
“He’s grown up a lot physically over the last few years,” Schwartz said. “He’s a lot stronger. He’s bigger but leaner. He still had some baby in him when he was a rookie. Now he’s a lot different.”
Stafford has been known primarily as a drop-back passer, but he has worked on his agility to improve his ability to move around in the pocket better.
To Stafford, it’s all about consistency and winning games.
“That’s what the great quarterbacks in this league do,” Stafford said. “Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been the best in the league for a long time because all they do is do it every week and get their team in a position to win.
“To show up every Sunday, week in and week out, be that guy that you know you’re going to get a great performance out of, is what you strive for.”
If he does it again this year, no one will be able to deny him a spot among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league.
Maybe even top five.
Rookie defensive end Ronnell Lewis (tightness in back) was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list after missing only one day of practice.
… Left tackle Jeff Backus left Saturday’s practice early because of a thumb injury. The severity was not immediately revealed.