Cooter wants to make Lions players more comfortable

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Even with another two weeks to prepare, the Lions don’t expect wholesale changes under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

However, as Cooter prepares to call plays for the second time in his coaching career, his approach sounds simple and player friendly.

“I think you pick your amount of stuff you can put in, and you try to get it like you like it,” he said Thursday. “Obviously, I have some things I like that maybe is different from some stuff we’ve run a month or two ago. But you still can’t throw 100 things at it; you can’t throw 500 new words and 100 new signals and 100 new football plays. You have to do what you do well, and you have to put in stuff you think is important.

“We’ve put in some stuff we think is important. I would say we’ll continue doing that throughout the year, so you’ll see some new wrinkles. It won’t be a full-on collection of new things. I don’t think that’s fair to the players.”

Effectively, Cooter wants to run plays that make the players comfortable.

“He’s talking about plays that suit us, plays that suit our quarterback, plays that suit the personnel that we have,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “And so we look at those things and try to make a determination on what plays work best, and there are a variety of them. But we have a lot of guys to utilize and I think he’s doing a good job trying to get those things in place.”

The Lions offense didn’t look much different in Cooter’s first game as the team lost, 45-10, to the Chiefs. Had Cooter wanted to run more than his predecessor Joe Lombardi, who was fired on Oct. 26, he didn’t have the option because of the score.

Still, as a first-time NFL coordinator, Cooter had a unique experience in Week 8, particularly because the game was in London.

“There’s a lot of cords going on the sidelines,” he said. “On that London game, they keep you corded up pretty good, so you’re always stepping over cords and all that. But I tried to get through the distraction of that.

“Overall, it was a learning experience for me. I’m going to continue learning and getting better. There’s … some calls I would like back, some calls that I could improve. I’m looking forward to making those notes, improving those this week. I’m sure, once again, it won’t be perfect, but we’re going to get better and better every week.”

The Lions face a Packers team that allowed an average of 33 points to the Panthers and Broncos the last two weeks, so Cooter’s offense should have a chance to find a rhythm Sunday. Of course, Detroit has the NFL’s 26th-ranked offense and 32nd-ranked rushing attack, so the Lions haven’t been able to exploit lackluster defenses much this season.

As he talked about fixing the Lions offense, Cooter repeatedly mentioned the importance of protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Lions have allowed 13 combined sacks the past two games.

“The three-and-outs are something we want to avoid,” Cooter said. “You want to create explosives as you’re going along through there. We certainly have players that can create explosives, and we’re looking for ways to do that. But at the same time … having productive, sustained drives will really help our team.”

The Lions have struggled to sustain drives because of either sacks or penalties for most of the season, but in theory, they should be able to create explosive plays that put them into scoring position with players such as Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Eric Ebron.

Cooter wouldn’t divulge how he’ll spread the work in the backfield, but he said running back Ameer Abdullah’s role will grow after the rookie had just one carry last week.

Aside from the personnel changes, it might be hard to tell how the offense looks different.

“I’m not sure the common fan will understand it or see it,” Stafford said. “There’s some intricacies in the game of football, and (Cooter) has some ways of thinking about offenses obviously different than Joe (Lombardi).”