ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz finds it amusing that someone would suggest quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing with a “chip on his shoulder” entering this season.
“I thought we surgically removed that chip. I thought we took care of that,” Schwartz said with a grin.
Schwartz can laugh about it now, all those external concerns over Stafford’s shoulder injuries and whether he was ever going to live up to the hype of being the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
A year ago at this time, you could understand if Stafford seriously did have a proverbial chip on his shoulder. After all, he had so much to prove, most of all whether he was durable and tough enough to play a full season in the NFL.
But for Stafford to come back with what’s being described by teammates as such a determined approach now, even after all his success a year ago, bodes well for him and this franchise — not only short term, but long term.
Stafford is not easily satisfied.
“It’s pretty amazing that after the year he had, how hungry he came back,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “Watch how he plays; watch how he’s throwing the ball. He’s slinging it around the field.
“I think it’s a part of him not being satisfied, and just the competitor in him. He wants to take this team and be better than it was last year, better than we’ve ever been.
“I think you put all those together and you have a perfect formula for him wanting to be better, and playing with that chip on his shoulder.”
Raiola likes the swagger that Stafford showed throughout training camp as the Lions prepared for Sunday’s regular-season opener at Ford Field against the St. Louis Rams. Schwartz has seen the same thing.
“Matt’s a very competitive guy,” the coach said. “He’s a very prideful guy. He wants to succeed for himself. He wants to succeed for his teammates, for the organization, and he wants to succeed for the city.
“That’s not fake when that comes out. He feels a very strong responsibility to this franchise and to this city to get things turned around.”
Public perception of Stafford has taken a major turn the past 12 months. After injuries forced him to miss 19 games in his first two seasons, some were calling Stafford a “china doll.”
He put an end to that rap last year, playing in every game and joining Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a season.
Stafford completed 63.5 percent of his passes and finished with 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. Along the way, he took the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Nevertheless, he wants more, much more.
“It’s a whole new year,” Stafford said. “You’ve got everything to prove again. Every day you’ve got to come out and prove yourself in this league. That’s just the attitude I take.”
Stafford, 24, grew up in Texas and went to college at Georgia. But the connection he has quickly developed with Detroit and its fan base is admirable.
Few athletes represent their organization and city as well as Stafford does. He made sure to give Detroit a plug when he received an award for being the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“You get the sense to how important it is,” Stafford said of his passion to bring a championship to Detroit football fans. “You want to give this city something to cheer about.”
It’s not just about what he delivered on the football field last season. That’s the biggest part, but Stafford is also appreciated for his personality.
That personality has been portrayed nicely in a new self-deprecating television spot in which he’s ready to celebrate being the NFL’s Player of the Week, only to have Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers steal it away with a Monday night performance.
“I just fake it till I make it,” Stafford said of his acting skills. “I was happy to poke fun at myself.”
He’s serious on the field, but he can laugh at himself off it. It’s a combination that’s working well for him.
The “chip on the shoulder,” which Raiola refferred to, is a big deal for the Lions right now, and shouldn’t underestimated. It shows Stafford’s leadership and tenacity.
NFL teams that make a big jump to win 10 games often take a step back the following year. There’s always concern that they’ll become a little satisfied with what they accomplished.
Based on his actions, not just his words, Stafford is sending the message around here that there will be none of that complacency — at least not from the franchise quarterback.
• Cornerback Chris Houston (ankle) and safety Louis Delmas (knee) did not practice again Wednesday, at least during the early part that was open to the media.
• The Lions released cornerback Ross Weaver (Michigan State) from their practice squad and added safety Ricardo Silva to take his place. Silva had been waived earlier in the week to make room for cornerback Drayton Florence on the 53-man roster.