Caldwell says Lions have an ‘exceptional group’

Gregg Krupa

Detroit — At their 21st annual kickoff luncheon, attended by owner Martha Firestone Ford, the Lions, now 60 years from their last NFL championships, were described by their head coach as a good team that can be great and by the quarterback as a squad perhaps poised for an elevated performance.

Jim Caldwell and Matthew Stafford described accomplishing the task as essentially a matter of will.



They were applauded by members and invitees of the Detroit Economic Club, in the cavernous atrium of Ford Field, where a concert was setting up for the rock band, U2.


“With our Without You,” the Lions “Sunday Bloody Sunday” might just be a “Beautiful Day.”

And if they can manage a couple of wins in postseason — tripling their total since their NFL title in 1957 — they would have a lot more “Pride” and maybe even a “Song for Someone.”

But enough riffing on U2 song titles.

What about the 2017 Lions?

Their head coach issued a call for disciplined determination.

“This is an exceptional group, from top to bottom,” said Caldwell, who enters his fourth season as the Lions’ head coach, with a 27-21 (.563) record in the regular season and 0-2 in the playoffs.

“I think the guys that have been added through the draft, added to our team through free agency, when you put all that together with the great nucleus we had here, it’s a pretty special group.

“They work extremely hard. They do a great job in terms of setting the tone for the younger guys.”


Stafford said he is looking for improvement.

“If you’re a successful player in this league, you’re not staying the same,” he said, of himself and his teammates.

“You’re either worse or you’re getting better.”

If the Lions can run, Stafford will not be their only weapon.

“It takes all 11 on offense,” he said.

“Anytime you run the football, it’s going to help the defense. It’s going to give them a rest. It’s going to help you control the clock and control the game.

“And, obviously, play-action passing is a plus.

“We have talented players in the backfield, talented players up front,” said Stafford, who agreed this week to a five-year, $135 million deal. “It’s up to on us to go out there and execute.

“We’ve got the people to do it. I know we will.”

Caldwell, who coached Peyton Manning with the Colts, said he believes Stafford is still improving.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” he said. “He’s got the kind of attitude you like to see. I mean, he works extremely hard; he’s diligent in all of his ways.

“He has talent — we obviously all know that — and everything you see from him today is really on an upward trend because he gets better every single year. He gets better every single day.

“That’s his goal, so we’re excited about that.”

Caldwell also said he believes his team had made an important choice.

“Greatness is not a matter of circumstance; it’s a matter of choice and discipline,” he said, quoting a maxim.

“I think this group, without question, has made that determination that their choice is going to be good at what they’re doing.

“Their choice is to be great, and they do have the discipline to get it done.”

Stafford said he is happy the contract is out of the way, so he can get down to business without distraction.

“We have a lot more important things to focus on that my contract situation,” he said. “So, I’m excited it’s done and to move on from it.

“I’ll do everything I can to help this team win a championship.”