Lions' success rides on Stafford's performance
Allen Park, Mich. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford knows that much of the team's success rides on his performance.
Entering his fifth NFL season, Stafford has had a somewhat uneven career thus far, due in part to injuries early on and poor overall team play in other instances.
So is Stafford destined to be the quarterback who threw 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions as he did in 2011 or the one who threw for 4,967 yards with 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as he did last season?
The answer to that question could determine the Lions' fate.
The 2011 Lions went 10-6 and lost in the playoffs in the wild card game to the New Orleans Saints.
The 2012 Lions went 4-12 and missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.
New Lions running back Reggie Bush, who played for the Saints and won a Super Bowl with them, led by quarterback Drew Brees, has faith in what Stafford can do.
"I think he has all the intangibles to be a Hall of Famer, a Pro Bowl quarterback, it's just about putting in the work ethic, putting in the time and just improving," Bush said after the first day of training camp. "Because this game is based on improvement and winning so that's something that we have to do, not just him, we all have to do as a team, we have to help him. But I think he's a great quarterback and I look forward to playing with him. He's definitely a leader."
One way in which Stafford leads is by keeping the focus on what's right in front of him.
When asked about what setting the team record in passing yards this season would mean to him, Stafford shrugged it off.
"To tell you the truth, right now I'm just worried about going in and putting this tape to bed and getting better (Saturday)," Stafford said. "There's obviously opportunities to do some things like that, but it's the farthest burner in my mind right now."
Coach Jim Schwartz feels Stafford is on the right track, despite the step back last season.
"He obviously has command of our offense and I think the step that he's taken over the last couple years is having command over what opponents' defenses want to do against us," Schwartz said. "He's good at recognizing different ways that people play us -- people don't always play us the way that they play other people.
"Each year I think he's taken another step with leadership and he's always been a mature guy for his age. He spent the entire offseason in Detroit. I think those things are all beneficial."
The other thing that will be beneficial for Stafford is if he has healthy players around him.
Last season the Lions lost wide receiver Nate Burleson to a broken leg and rookie receiver Ryan Broyles to a torn ACL. Recently released running back Jahvid Best did not play the entire season because of lingering concussion symptoms.
"Everybody looks healthy and I think everybody is feeling good," Stafford said. "That's a huge plus for us. Last year (we) lost a lot of guys. I think we did a good job of battling through it, but it's nice to have the full complement out there right now."
Burleson and Broyles appear to be healthy and Bush has arrived to help ease the burden on Mikel Leshoure.
Of course, the offensive line is still a work in progress as Jeff Backus retired, leaving second-year player Riley Reiff to fill that important role. Right guard and right tackle are up for grabs as the team released former right guard Stephen Peterman and former right tackle Gosder Cherilus went to Indianapolis.
"I'm excited for all the guys up front and their opportunities to step in and play," Stafford said. "Obviously I have a ton of respect for Jeff and what he did for me and this organization and I can't thank him enough.
"It was great having him around in OTAs and that kind of stuff, to see his face. I know he's helping those guys out a bunch. I'm excited for Riley and his opportunity."
Stafford is also excited for the opportunity this season presents for him and his growth as the leader of the team.
"I'm just trying to do everything I can to be as prepared as I can for the first game," Stafford said. "That's taking this day by day. I'm trying to make sure that I'm doing everything right, when everything's right, keep trying harder to be that much more perfect.
"That's my mindset is every play, every snap, every rep is just trying to make sure I'm doing the right things."