- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Still learning the Lions' routes and terminology, he would pull his college quarterback over and ask him to break things down a different way.
In Georgia terms.
Stafford and Durham have known each other for a long time, dating to when Durham was a teenager headed to Athens, Ga. to play for the Bulldogs. At the time, Stafford was Georgia's starting quarterback, trying to put himself in Heisman Trophy contention and eventually, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
Now with Detroit, the relationship has become almost telepathic.
"It's kind of funny, because I can just kind of tell what he's thinking just by the look that he gives me," Durham said. "In practice [recently], I line up, we run a certain play and I look up and just by the way he looked at me, I knew what he wanted me to do.
"It was weird."
But it's functional.
Durham has become a beacon of reliability for Stafford over the past six weeks. Since Nate Burleson broke his forearm in a car crash between the third and fourth weeks of the season, Durham's role went from a receiver getting a part-time level of snaps to one with a significant role.
In the past five games, he has played no fewer than 61 snaps, seen no fewer than four targets a game and caught at least three passes in every game since. Now in his third season out of Georgia and second with the Lions, he is comfortable enough where he can be impactful and play without wondering how many chances he'll receive.
"I've always had the ability," Durham said. "It's just, I understand the speed of the game more because I'm in the fire. That takes some getting used to."
It is coming at a critical time for Durham. In training camp, it was questionable whether he would even make Detroit's 53-man roster. Then it was a question how many snaps he'd see.
His teammates, though, did not doubt Durham. It was more about whether he could get a chance behind Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and, at one point, Patrick Edwards, who is now on the Lions' practice squad.
"Through the outside viewer's eye or the media, it might seem like he's gotten more confidence or whatever but really, it's getting that chance and him doing well with it," rookie tight end Joseph Fauria said. "That's how guys get to be successful. If they are not given that chance and they have that extra drive, now that he has it, he's doing well with it."
The connection with Stafford helps. If he wants to signal something to just Durham, he can use that telepathy or an old signal from their days with Mark Richt. Durham's role with Detroit, and with Stafford, is different. When Stafford and Durham played together for three years at Georgia, Durham caught a combined 32 passes for 450 yards. Not exactly a main target, but Durham's ability to make plays with Stafford was not a question.
More than perhaps any receiver other than Johnson, Stafford knows when Durham is comfortable.
"Being around him, just his body language when he's running a route, things like that, all that stuff is important for timing and accuracy," Stafford said. "Being able to be around a guy for a long time obviously helps that."
Even when Durham was inserted into the lineup for a larger percentage of the plays against Chicago in September, the understanding between quarterback and receiver took time to emerge.
Two weeks later, after a game without Johnson against Green Bay, Stafford and Durham found their on-field understanding again. In the first drive against Cleveland, a game in which Durham was targeted a career-high 13 times, Stafford looked to him four times, part of a day where he had a career-high eight catches for a career-high 83 yards.
On the first drive. Durham knew from the game plan there was a chance he'd see a lot of action early that game, but to actually have that happen helped.
"Just from the plays we had called, I knew I had a chance," Durham said. "I saw the coverage and the way it was rolling and different things played into it.
"But I think we both kind of hit our stride in understanding each other that much more."
It's an understanding that should continue as Durham has found a role with the Lions, even as Burleson, the man whose injury gave Durham more opportunity, moves closer to a return.