Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter sat down with The Detroit News to talk about a number of topics, including Matthew Stafford's offseason work, the offensive line and the return of healthy running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
■ Question: Since you’ve taken over as offensive coordinator, Matthew Stafford’s completion percentage is up and his mistakes are down. But one thing we don’t see much anymore is the deep ball. Are there any plans to increase the downfield passing this year?
■ Answer: “He’s definitely got it in him. It’s a bit of multiple factors, I would say. It’s a little bit schematic, a little bit personnel driven, and a bit on figuring out how to block up the opposing pass rush. It’s certainly not something we’re trying to avoid and something we could certainly see more of (this season).”
■ Q. Have you seen positive returns from Stafford’s offseason work with an outside quarterback coach?
■ A. “I do see improvement. Every player in this league wants to improve year to year, using the offseason. For Stafford, who has had a lot of success in this league, to go out and work on improving himself, work on stepping up a couple different factors in his game, it’s really big of him to do and we’re seeing it pay off in practice, and I think we’ll see it pay off in the games. He is doing some things better and I expect that to translate in a few more good plays for the Lions this year.”
■ Q. As a coordinator, do you ever worry about too many cooks in the kitchen with Stafford?
■ A. “No, not on my end. With the current state of the rules, state of how often we get to work with our guys, how much time we get to spend with our guys, if players aren’t looking to get better on their own, they’re really missing an opportunity. To me, for Stafford looking to get better working with those guys, I think it’s a big plus.”
■ Q. With Greg Robinson still learning the system after joining the team in June, and Graham Glasgow still growing into the left guard spot, what’s your confidence level with the left side of the offensive line?
■ A. “Every week of camp, every preseason game has built confidence within me. I feel like we’re ready to go attack the season with those guys. I think we’re going to get even better from Week 1 to Week 2, two to three, etc.
“All in all, those guys have done a nice job. Greg, getting thrown in here basically the first day of training camp, and picking it up, executing and getting better as we go. I have good confidence in that group and confidence we’ll improve as the thing goes on.”
■ Q. How much did losing Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick handcuff your ability to call the offense last year, and what does it mean to have them back and healthy?
■ A. “Huge to have those guys back. Both are really good players, in their own right. Both do different things really well, have different strengths and weaknesses. Any time you lose guys like that, you adjust and do what whoever else is in there does best.
“We’re still going to play multiple guys at that position this year, but to have those guys back is big for us. We’re going to call a bunch of runs and I expect them to work at a higher clip, with higher efficiency, than they did last year.”
■ Q. You recently told us you put an emphasis on gaining a better understanding of run offense this offseason. Did you collaborate with any outside coaches?
■ A. “Nothing really in-depth like that. Had plenty of discussions with many guys, but I’m known to try to solve things on my own. I like to learn things that way, really diving into a topic, whether that’s football or outside of football.
“Sometimes, when you try to discuss things (with other coaches) and you don’t see it the same way or speak with the same verbiage, it can be a little hard to make that connection. There are a lot of different ways to learn and I’ve found I do my best when I set myself up a study or a couple of studies and some goals as I go along.”
■ Q. Was the fifth receiver battle between Jace Billingsley and Jared Abbrederis as close as we made it out to be?
■ A. “Very, very, very close. We were lucky to have good competition at a lot of spots on this team, but that was a really, really healthy competition between those two guys, and one that kept going back and forth as training camp went on. Both guys do a lot of things really well. We’re excited to have them both here.”
■ Q. What gives you confidence dropped passes won’t be an issue again this year?
■ A. “We’ve made a commitment, in a couple of different ways I don’t want to get into, on the way we’ve gone about doing things. We hope that we’ve made some breakthroughs, made some improvements in the way our guys catch the ball moving forward.
“I think we’ve cut our lack of catches in half from last (offseason). We’re doing better in training camp. Our guys are doing a better job and I’m doing a better job coaching it, along with our other coaches. Sometimes, it’s a bit fluky, sometimes there’s good reasons you don’t catch passes. We’re trying to work on those good reasons.”
■ Q. Have you considered whether guys have trouble adjusting to Stafford’s arm strength?
■ A. “It would be an interesting scientific study. I’ve never been a high-level receiver, myself. I’m sure velocity adds a layer of difficulty, but at the end of the day, that’s the job. The job is to catch the ball. If the difficulty level is seven or six, let’s go catch all of them. It would be an interesting study for somebody to do.”
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