Stafford, 28, is suddenly the offense’s old guy

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — All of the offensive veterans from the early portion of Matthew Stafford’s career are no longer with the Lions.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson retired this offseason, joining offensive linemen Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola from previous years.

At 32, backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky is the Lions’ oldest offensive player, but he wasn’t in Detroit for the start of Stafford’s career. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is 31, but considering he was in Stafford’s draft class in 2009, it would be weird for the quarterback to consider him an elder.

And with Pettigrew still recovering from knee surgery, there’s a good chance the 28-year-old Stafford is the oldest offensive starter when the Lions start the season.

“I feel old,” he said after Thursday’s organized team activities. “It’s crazy how it happens; you feel like you’re the young guy for forever and then all of a sudden (you’re not). It’s the NFL.

“They’re always trying to bring in competition, bring in young guys, see if they can pave their way in this league, and we’re no different. We’ve got a bunch of competition at a lot of positions, and it’s going to make us better.”

Stafford said he doesn’t really feel old, but as an eight-year veteran, he has significantly more experience than many of his teammates. Just seven of the 90 players on the roster are entering their ninth season or more.

Even if Stafford is the old dog, he still has to learn new tricks. First on the agenda, of course, is learning to play without Johnson, who was a starting receiver in 87 of Stafford’s 93 career games.

But, when asked how long it took to move on from Johnson, Stafford jokingly said, “Apparently a lot quicker than you guys.” He did, though, acknowledge that some plays will look different without the future Hall of Famer.

And while adjusting to missing his top receiver, Stafford will also have to learn a new offense. Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter installed much of his offense on the fly last season after replacing Joe Lombardi before Week 8, but Cooter will be making several changes to the playbook before the season begins.

No matter what changes come, Stafford sounds ready to handle them. He’s confident in the players around him, and he thinks there will be plenty of opportunities between now and September to ensure the offense will thrive.