January 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Jim Caldwell foresees bright future for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford

Detroit It aint broke, exactly.

So when Jim Caldwell, the Lions new head coach, was asked Wednesday about his plans for coaching up Matthew Stafford, the teams franchise quarterback, he took issue with the premise of the question: Is he fixable?

Im not certain Id use the term fixable dont attribute that one to me, Caldwell said, chuckling. But I do think that the guy has ability, that hes gonna be a very, very fine player in this league. And it wont be long.

It cant be. Not if Caldwell means it when he says, The time is now.

Not two years or three years from now, down the road somewhere, he added, in his opening remarks at the press conference inside Ford Field. Were right here, right now.

And that they were Wednesday, introducing another head coach after another losing season, this time after arguably the worst late-season collapse in franchise history, had a little something to do with Staffords play.

So did their 6-3 start, as they seized the NFC North lead this fall, of course. But as the Lions lost six of their final seven games amid a flurry of mistakes and turnovers, it was Staffords play that was the most confounding. He threw 12 interceptions in that stretch and fumbled away two more possessions those turnovers proved critical in close losses to Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the New York Giants while completing just 54.4 percent of his passes.

I think its hard to put it on one single thing, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said Wednesday, in his first extensive remarks about his teams disappointing finish. But what I saw watching tape was a guy that wanted to make every single play himself. And I think sometimes when you play this game, youve got to trust everybody around you to be where theyre supposed to be, do what theyre supposed to do. You have to understand what your role is through the game.

Coach Caldwell said it best when he was talking about our game against Baltimore. He said, You know, a lot of games are lost and not won. There are more games lost than there are games won. And that happens when you have players out there trying to do more than what they should be doing.

Initial meeting

So what do they do to fix that? Thats the question going forward for Caldwell and his staff, which will start to take shape in the coming days.

The real answers wont come until the spring, in late March or early April, when coaches can start working directly with players.

But Caldwell met with Stafford during his initial visit with the Lions on Jan. 3 in Allen Park. Hed already reviewed film of all of Staffords pass attempts last season to prep for his interview, so I had a feel for him, at least. And when the two finally sat down for a half-hour chat, I gave him my opinion of what I saw. But I also talked to him and listened to him about what he thought he needed work on.

Caldwell declined to get into many specifics on that subject.

Ive got to look at him further, Ive got to dig down a little bit deeper, he explained.

But we do have a set of parameters that we use in terms of coaching quarterbacks that we know works, he added. And Im anxious and excited to give (Stafford) an opportunity to work within those parameters.

Theres not any player in the league that doesnt need work perfecting his craft. They all do. This game moves too fast, too many talented players. It takes work, it takes dedication, and youve gotta sharpen your skills.

And the Lions hope now is that they have a coaching staff thats better suited to do just that with Stafford, the former No. 1 overall pick in which theyve literally invested the future, with $82 million already in his pocket and an 8-month-old contract extension that runs through 2017.

Caldwell will be heavily involved in the offense, obviously, and may be looking to bring in Clyde Christensen, his longtime colleague in Indianapolis who has worked most recently with Andrew Luck, as his offensive coordinator. Thatd be a good start.

And for all the angst about Staffords future in Detroit, hes off to a pretty good one, too. In fact, Caldwell didnt balk at comparisons to the situation he inherited in 2002 as the quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning was entering his fifth NFL season leading a pass-happy, turnover-prone offense.

A lot of similarities, he said. A lot of similarities in terms of the teams as well.

And he didnt hesitate to promise better results from Stafford, who became the first quarterback in franchise history to post three consecutive 4,000-yard seasons.

Due for greatness

Stafford can make all the throws we see that. He reads coverages well. And he certainly doesnt lack for confidence.

I think youre going to see improvement from the onset, Caldwell said. Hes a willing guy, hes capable, he has an immense amount of talent. Weve just got to bring that to the forefront.

You take a look at some of the great ones in their fifth year. Look at the numbers. And then look at them in their ninth and 10th year. You see that they just start to grow and develop and they keep going. And thats the stage that hes at right now, and hes going to turn into an outstanding player.

As expected, accountability was one of the buzzwords Wednesday at Ford Field. And thats an area Stafford has to be better, becoming a more vocal leader off the field and a more responsible one on it. His bosses do, too, including Mayhew, whose to-do list this offseason has to include a legitimate No. 2 receiver near the very top. For a team that dropped too many balls last season, that was certainly one of them.

Still, when it comes to winning and losing, the responsibility is bound to fall on the quarterbacks shoulders.

Hes a great player I think he knows that, Mayhew said of Stafford. He can do some things that other people cant do with the football. And I think that leads to some Wow plays, and leads to some confidence that he can make plays that he actually cant make.

Time to fix that, without a doubt.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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New Lions coach Jim Caldwell is expected to 'fix' quarterback Matthew Stafford, although Caldwell won't use that term. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News