Hurry-up practices show Stafford's progress

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Matthew Stafford has been precise through two exhibitions, going 8-for-10, with two incompletions that were catchable.

But as impressive as Stafford was in those brief appearances, some of his practice habits could be a better indication of his improvement in Year 2 of Joe Lombardi's offense.

"We're flying around, we're making calls quick, we're catching, we're running, we're thudding up and we just have a better understanding of what coach (Jim) Caldwell wants," receiver Golden Tate said.

And that increased speed in practice — the normally two-hour sessions are running closer to 90 minutes — could be a sign Stafford is more comfortable this season.

"I would say he's just playing faster, which you would expect as you become more comfortable," Lombardi said. "The difference between good and great is just a split second at that position, and I think he's just seeing things a little faster and also knows when he can throw into some looks that last year maybe were a little cloudy that are much more clear to him.

"I think he's had a real strong camp."

Transferring strong practices into the regular season is the next task for Stafford, who will try to find the balance of flashy statistics early in his career and the ball security he displayed last year.

In addition to working out with some Lions receivers in Atlanta during the offseason, Stafford spent time evaluating his mistakes from 2014. He said he broke down his errors into categories such as physical, mental and decision-making.

"I felt pretty good about where I was decision making-wise and then mental-wise," he said. "I had some of those. I had some physical mistakes as well. It's a mix. You just got to try to go in there and be better the next year."

Last season, Stafford threw 12 interceptions, his fewest in a full season, but was sacked 45 times. Poor offensive line play played a key role in that total, but a better understanding of everyone's assignments could help Stafford avoid negative plays.

Asked what changes he's seen from Stafford this year, the first thing Tate said was improved knowledge.

"He's got all the physical talent to play this game for a long time, be a Hall of Famer," Tate said. "He understands this offense, he understands the personnel a lot better, and when you understand the details and small things like that, it helps everyone."

Even though Stafford's personality as a mostly quiet leader hasn't changed, Tate said he's seen him spend more time during practice coaching the younger players.

"He's the head guy, and these are things that started in the offseason," Tate said.

Lombardi also noticed Stafford being a bit more directive with his teammates, too.

"I think that comes from understanding what we want and then also seeing what he wants as he gets to know the plays a little better," Lombardi said. "I think he's been a little bit more involved in coaching up the other receivers and running backs as far as exactly how he wants a route to look and what he wants a guy to be thinking based on different defensive looks.

"As he's become more comfortable and confident in what's happening around him he's able to take more of a role like that."