July 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Lions' Matthew Stafford embraces challenge of learning new offense

Allen Park — It would have been natural for Matthew Stafford to be resistant, especially at first.

In his five NFL seasons, he had known only one head coach, one offensive coordinator and one offensive system. Suddenly that comfort zone was gone, replaced by new coaches and a different system.

There has been no pushback, no complaining. All Stafford did was roll up his sleeves and, as he said Monday after the first day of training camp, “did everything I could to immerse myself in it.”

“Everything is different and it takes some getting used to,” Stafford said. “But it’s also fun and fresh and new. We’re excited.”

Stafford was asked if the change was something that he needed, personally, to help break some of the bad habits that he’d gotten into in the old system.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think every time the new season comes around I feel rejuvenated and ready to go. But there were definitely some fun challenges for me — learning a new offense, learning new coaches on both sides of the ball and learning new teammates. It’s been good.”

Count coach Jim Caldwell among those who believe Stafford has been energized by the challenge of learning the new offense.

“He’s one of those guys, he’s a willing participant,” Caldwell said. “He enjoys the game. The challenge of learning the new system kind of piqued his interest at the beginning. It will give him a different array of plays he can use. There are some things he’s familiar with, too, that we’ve kept in.

“But I love his attitude. Any time you have a guy that buys in and buys in quickly and gets after it 100 percent, you have to be pleased and we have been pleased.”

Two things helped win Stafford over quickly — the resumes of his new coaches and the fact he has seen via Drew Brees and the Saints how dynamic and productive the offense can be.

“Our head coach has been to Super Bowls, he’s won a Super Bowl,” Stafford said. “Some of the coaches on our coaching staff and some of the guys we’ve brought in (have won Super Bowls). Just talking to those guys and being able to pick their brain and talk to them about what it’s like — having those guys around the building means a lot to us. It’s something we haven’t had in the past.”

As for the offense itself:

“This offense does a great job of creating leverage, creating releases for receivers, creating angles for runners,” Stafford said. “We do that with alignment, movement, with bunches and stacks and we spread them out — just a lot of different things to look at for a defense.

“When you can master it yourself, which takes time and effort, it’s proven it can be pretty successful.”

This isn’t the first time Caldwell has installed a new offense with a new group of players and a new quarterback. The learning curve is different every time.

“I’ve been really impressed,” he said of how quickly it’s come together with this group. “Last week when we had our injured veterans and rookies come back with the quarterbacks, the retention was amazing. You could tell guys had worked at it. They hadn’t forgotten much about what they’d been taught. And they functioned very well.

“Even today on the first day, as many things as we got accomplished, it shows you they’ve gotten a grasp of it. Now we still have a long way to go, but the understanding and commitment to learning it is there.”

Caldwell was quick to point out, though, that the learning curve is ongoing and could stretch into the season.

“People don’t understand how difficult it is to play that (quarterback) position,” he said. “Even when you’ve played the position in the same system for 15 years, it’s still difficult. It’s a real challenge. But Matthew is one of those guys, you will see him continue to get better and better in this system.

“But understand this, too — we have a lot more weapons. There are a lot of guys we can spread the ball around to. He doesn’t have to do it all. It’s not going to be all dependent on him.”

That right there might be the biggest difference between the old system and the new for Stafford.


Quarterback Matthew Stafford watches practice Monday in Allen Park. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News