Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford
Including his version of crazy trick shots.
Stafford's girlfriend, Kelly Hall, posted a video of Stafford throwing a football full court from the corner and hitting nothing but net.
It's an impressive few seconds of video that you can watch here.
This is part of a good week for Stafford, who got a strong No. 2 wide receiver in Golden Tate. He signed with the Lions on Wednesday on the second day of free agency.
For context, when I covered Michigan, I saw Denard Robinson attempt this during "College GameDay" when the traveling basketball studio show came to Ann Arbor for the Michigan-Ohio State game. Robinson did not come close to making any of his attempts before running and making a layup. Then again, Robinson is now an NFL running back, not a quarterback.
He had just won a Super Bowl with Seattle and had been one of the offensive keys to success on a defense-oriented team, but it was a good situation. One in which he had planned on staying.
His sisters were left behind in Los Angeles while their brother went to find out if his life was going to change.
"I did expect to be in Seattle. I knew there was a chance that I wouldn't," Tate said. "It was kind of poor planning on my part. It was their spring break and I was like, 'OK. Yeah, yeah, just come on out. Whatever.' Next thing I know, I was leaving.
"I expected to be in Seattle but I had an open mind that it might not work out that way and it didn't."
Tate's plans were thrown out of whack by more than just his potential move to a new city. The weather in Detroit grounded him -- he was initially supposed to be on a midday flight -- and allowed him to get in a nap at the practice facility and eventually sign his five-year, $31 million deal that will bring him to the Lions.
When Tate arrived Tuesday in Detroit, he ate dinner and said he watched Lions highlights in his hotel room. He had to be up at 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday to go through medical testing before making it to the facility in a snowstorm. He met with coaches for a couple of hours and also had a 15-to-20 minute meeting with Lions vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr., a meeting Tate mentioned multiple times during his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"I went in his office and we talked about a couple things," Tate said. "We talked about football. We talked about charity work. We talked about golf, which is another selling point for me. I hear there are a ton of golf courses, which is so exciting. I have to calm down a little bit.
"We kind of just sat there and got to know each other a little bit and you can tell right away he's a very genuine guy, down to earth guy and that's the type of people I want to surround myself with."
Other than the contract, Detroit's potential offense sold Tate. After playing in a run-heavy Seattle unit where the focus was on a dominant defense, the only way he would leave the Seahawks would be to go to an offense that was at least balanced if not focused on passing.
In Detroit, for multiple reasons, he found that. Tate heard the way new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi described the playbook and saw the way he fit. He knew he could line up opposite Calvin Johnson and that the two could perhaps draw coverage away from the other.
Add running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, along with a strong-armed quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and it felt like an offensive fit.
"After talking to coach [Robert] Prince and coach Joe [Lombardi], I definitely see myself moving around in the slot and outside, over to Calvin's side, us stacking sometimes," Tate said. "There's so many things you can do with a player like myself and a player like Calvin that it's going to be hard to stop us, to be honest."
His future teammates noticed -- even before Tate officially signed.
Earlier Wednesday, Bell said Tate would "be a valuable piece to this already deadly offense."
There are also familiar faces in Detroit for Tate. He played college football at Notre Dame with running back Theo Riddick and tight end Joseph Fauria, who eventually transferred to UCLA. And in Seattle, he was teammates with Kris Durham, who became the Lions' No. 2 receiver last season after an injury to Nate Burleson and ineffectiveness from Patrick Edwards.
"Happy to have him in Detroit," Durham said in a text message to ESPN.com. "Played with him over in Seattle and I know he's going to bring some excitement to the team with his skills."
Those skills are diverse. He can play inside or outside and said he would still be open to returning punts -- a role currently held by another receiver, Jeremy Ross.
But this is what Detroit wanted. It had to find a complement to Calvin Johnson, but it did with one of the top free agents on the market. They needed a receiver with strong hands -- he has some of the best hands in the NFL over the past three seasons -- and someone who could have speed to stretch the field opposite Johnson.
"We were looking, from the offensive standpoint, to find a guy who could go on the other side and be our No. 2 and play opposite to Calvin and certainly give us some work inside and out," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "With immeasurable talent catching the ball and also a guy who can provide some great leadership as well.
"Sets a tone and Golden Tate is going to be that individual."
An individual with a flight to catch after some changed plans. His goal was to return to Los Angeles on Wednesday night so he could spend one day with his sisters before everything else in his life continues to shift.
If you have a question for next week's Mailbag, tweet the hashtag #LionsMailbag or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason from email asks: I am only asking this because I just read your article and I am deploying soon so I may not get to follow how it all plays out. Do you think with the new Lions coaches being in place, they will keep Kellen Moore on the roster? I know he was brought in by (Jim) Schwartz right after the draft. I am a huge Boise State Broncos fan and I have had the fortune of meeting Kellen a few times and I think he could be a Drew Brees type QB if given the chance. I think he is also a great backup to Stafford and a valuable asset on the other end of that helmet mic calling in calls for Matt. What are your thoughts on him being on ours or any other team's roster in the future? #WENEEDMOOREKELLEN
Creative hashtag at the end and before I answer, thank you for your service to our nation. Much appreciated. Now to your question -- I think there's a chance, but I'm not sold on Moore. He won big in college, is a smart player and a high character guy. But I just don't know if a coach like Jim Caldwell, who lost his job in Indianapolis in large part because Peyton Manning had no serviceable backup, will take a chance on Moore being the backup to Stafford. If the team chose to keep three quarterbacks, maybe they stick with Moore for one more season, but unless he shows the Lions coaches something unexpected, I don't know how long he'll be around. His arm strength is not great and he has yet to play in a regular-season NFL game. I just don't see it happening.
Craig from Murrieta, Calif. asks: Should the Lions try (since the Saints can match the offer) and give up two first-round picks for Jimmy Graham after the Saints put the franchise tag on him instead of signing Pettigrew? Calvin Johnson, Graham and company on the same team would be unstoppable.
In a word, no. Other than franchise quarterbacks and a Hall of Fame star at another position, first round draft picks are the most valuable thing teams can possess during a season. Considering the average NFL career and the amount of injuries in the NFL (not long and very high), being able to replenish talent with talent is one of the most important things a team can do. Giving up two first round draft picks for a tight end -- even one like Graham -- would be a poor, poor decision. On the plus side for me, it would give plenty of column fodder, but it would be a terrible decision for Detroit. Even more so with guys like Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Troy Niklas in the draft.
In Caldwell’s case, it helped cost him his first NFL head coaching job.
Peyton Manning missed the 2011 season for the Indianapolis Colts and the team plummeted to a 2-14 record after being a perennial playoff participant with Manning and either Tony Dungy or Caldwell as the head coach.
Indianapolis restructured its entire organization after the season, including getting rid of Manning, Caldwell and the Polian family, which had helped run the franchise during the Manning years. In some ways, the reason the team chose to start over was because of what happened when the team didn’t have a capable backup quarterback.
The Colts instead went with Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky as their quarterbacks, neither of whom had much starting experience before or after the 2011 season.
“You know, the thing is, you want to have, if you can, a guy that can step in there and can win you a few games,” Caldwell said. “You hope you never have to play him. That’s the key and you hope your guy stays healthy but the reality of it is it may not happen so you got to have a guy that’s capable in that spot.”
Up until now, this hasn’t been an issue in Detroit. Over the past four seasons, the Lions have had Shaun Hill as the main backup to Stafford and he was considered one of the top veteran backup options in the NFL.
Now an unrestricted free agent, the 34-year-old could head anywhere and while he didn’t rule out a return to Detroit, either he or the team could choose to move on without the other. What happens is still unclear as the team moves into free agency on March 11.
“That’s still kind of defining itself,” general manager Martin Mayhew said. “And we’ll get into the free agency market and see what it looks like and see if there’s a veteran out there that’s right for us that we feel comfortable with. And if not, then we’ll go into the draft.”
Whether or not Hill returns, Detroit still has a backup quarterback on its roster. Kellen Moore, who the Lions signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, remains on the roster and is a restricted free agent after the 2014 season. Moore has not taken a snap in either of his seasons with the Lions, but the team needs to make a decision whether they feel he can be a capable backup quarterback or not.
Now, it is just too difficult to tell.
“I haven’t seen enough of him in actual games to say that you just roll with him and you feel great about it,” Mayhew said. “The idea of signing a veteran is appealing to us. However, he’s done a lot of things in practice that makes you feel like he’s very capable, so that’s kind of an open situation right now.
“We’ll get into free agency and see how free agency goes, and if we find the right guy at the right value, we’ll make a move there.”
Among the potential options available for Detroit if it were to pursue a quarterback through free agency are Luke McCown, who played under offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi in New Orleans, and Painter, who was with the Giants last season.
Brady Quinn and Kellen Clemens, both with St. Louis last season, could also be options for Detroit depending on what it is looking for.
But if the Lions don’t find what they want and can’t re-sign Hill, they could invest a mid-to-late round pick on a quarterback. Because as Caldwell has learned, he can’t go into his first season with a new team without a viable option if Stafford were to go down.
Matthew Stafford's progress is part of the reason why Caldwell brought in a quarterback-minded offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, and a quarterbacks coach focused on fundamentals, Jim Bob Cooter.
All three coaches have worked with elite level quarterbacks. All three have reached at least one Super Bowl as a coach. All three will be focused, at least partially, on working with Stafford and sharpening his abilities.
Caldwell's familiarity with Cooter was part of why he chose to bring him in to work with Stafford as his dedicated quarterbacks coach. Cooter worked with Manning in Indianapolis and Denver.
"I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that obviously [Manning] had a great respect for [Cooter] but also the work that he had done.
"And I felt I needed a guy who had a real good sense of fundamentals, real good sense of how to put it all together."
Caldwell later clarified that hiring based on coaching fundamentals was important for all positions. None more so, though, than the quarterback because often the passer is under more pressure throughout a game than any other spot on the field.
As Cooter will work with Stafford, Caldwell also officially ceded away his play calling duties, something Lombardi first mentioned during his introductory news conference. When Caldwell was introduced as Detroit's head coach, he left open the possibility that he would call plays this season.
He confirmed Thursday that Lombardi will call them. It'll be up to Lombardi to make sure he calls plays that will reverse the regression Stafford showed during the second half of the 2013 season -- when he had 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a completion percentage of 54.1 percent.
It is, after all, why Caldwell, Lombardi and Cooter were hired after Detroit fired Jim Schwartz on Dec. 30. The Lions put a premium focus on the position and all three spent times with quarterbacks considered elite. Not that Caldwell likes the term elite at all. He just wants to make sure he has a good quarterback and he believes he has one in Stafford.
"I've had an opportunity to look at him and here's my assessment of him, and I haven't found anyone that hadn't been able to correct any issues
that they had," Caldwell said. "First of all, we're always, each and every guy and he's one of those, is looking for ways to try to improve. He's hungry to improve. I've noticed that about him. He's eager. He's a willing worker, he's smart and he has tools.
"And when you find that combination, typically you're going to find a guy that does everything it takes to get him in position where he's a championship quarterback. Now, a lot of people want to talk about so many other things that really aren't that important.
"Whether or not he's elite or this or that. That doesn't matter. We want a championship quarterback is what we're looking for."
Then he ended up in Tennessee and the Lions went with Jim Caldwell after firing Jim Schwartz on Dec. 30, the day after the Lions ended the 2013 season at 7-9, missing the playoffs.
“Absolutely not,” Whisenhunt said.
Actually, he seemed confident in Detroit’s quarterback situation, and therefore Stafford, saying he liked what he saw. Whisenhunt interviewed with the Lions, Titans and Cleveland Browns prior to San Diego’s divisional playoff game against Denver.
He had been sought after by Detroit because of his work with quarterbacks, notably Philip Rivers in 2013 and Kurt Warner from his time as a head coach in Arizona.
“Once again, I have a lot of respect for Detroit. (General manager) Martin (Mayhew) and I were teammates, and it’s a good organization and I really liked what I had seen in the quarterback,” Whisenhunt said. “But, once again, you’ve got to understand, when there’s a lot going on in a short window, I feel very honored that I was given an opportunity to interview with the Lions. They are looking at different candidates as well, and you don’t have control of that situation.
“So, when it all comes down to the end, I had an opportunity with Tennessee and I feel good about that.”
Besides the televised workouts and the mass of prospects meeting with the media, Detroit's representatives will also be chatting throughout the week.
Here's a quick primer of what to expect and prospects to watch in Indianapolis over the next few days. And a blanket reminder -- when it comes to the draft, parse what you hear over the next week and employ many grains of NaCl.
Important parts of the schedule:
- Thursday at noon -- Jim Caldwell speaks to the media
- Thursday -- Tight ends (an area of need) talk to the media throughout the day
- Friday at 11:30 a.m. -- Martin Mayhew speaks to the media
- Friday -- Wide receivers (perhaps the biggest area of need) speak to the media
- Saturday -- Tight ends have on-field workout; defensive linemen and linebackers meet the media.
- Sunday -- Wide receivers on-field workout; defensive backs (another big need) meet with the media.
- Tuesday -- Defensive backs on-field workout.
The Lions have a few position groups they are likely going to target throughout the draft, some with immediate needs and some to draft for the future as they can learn under the men they'll eventually replace.
Here, in order of potential positional importance in the draft, are some names to watch over the next week. This list will likely change by this time next week and is not a be-all, end-all list by any means. But some of these players are guys to pay attention to in each position group.
1.Wide receiver: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Marqise Lee, USC; Davante Adams, Fresno State; Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State; Jarvis Landry, LSU; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Allen Robinson, Penn State; Paul Richardson, Colorado; Donte Moncrief, Mississippi; Martavis Bryant, Clemson; Shaq Evans, UCLA; Jeremy Gallon, Michigan.
2.Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama; Calvin Pryor, Louisville; Deone Bucannon, Washington State; Dion Bailey, USC.
3.Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Bradley Roby, Ohio State; Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida; Marcus Roberson, Florida; Keith McGill, Utah; Bashaud Breeland, Clemson; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech.
4.Tight end: Eric Ebron, North Carolina; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa.
5.Linebacker: Khalil Mack, Buffalo; Anthony Barr, UCLA; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young; Christian Jones, Florida State; Shayne Skov, Stanford; Max Bullough, Michigan State; Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut.
6.Defensive end: Kareem Martin, North Carolina; Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas; Aaron Lynch, South Florida.
7.Center: Weston Richburg, Colorado State; James Stone, Tennessee; Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma.
8.Quarterback: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; Derek Carr, Fresno State; Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.); Bryn Renner, North Carolina; Dustin Vaughan, West Texas A&M.
9.Defensive tackle: Caraun Reid, Princeton; Anthony Johnson, LSU; Shamar Stephen, Connecticut; George Uko, USC; Beau Allen, Wisconsin.
10.Offensive tackle: Seantrel Henderson, Miami (Fla.); Brandon Thomas, Clemson; Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt; Michael Schofield, Michigan; Brett Van Sloten, Iowa.
11.Running back: Bishop Sankey, Washington; Andre Williams, Boston College; Charles Sims, West Virginia; Storm Johnson, UCF; James Wilder Jr., Florida State.
Five questions that need to be answered during the combine:
2. Does the team have interest in Brandon Pettigrew? This would be the second-biggest question and with money potentially being a factor, could tie into Suh. Tight end is a place of need with Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams the only tight ends definitely returning for 2014. Pettigrew offers a unique blocking and route-running skill set that could be difficult to replace, but there are options in the draft and some chance-type options likely available in free agency. Is a veteran a big key here considering the inexperience of Fauria and Williams.
3. How does the team plan on making more cap room? There are some other players that could have contracts restructured or could be outright released to make room under the cap to sign both free agents and the eventual rookies the team is in Indianapolis to scout. Right now, Detroit is around $3 million under the cap and that is an insufficient number to fill out the roster with talented players. Something needs to move here, and if question No. 1 ends up being answered, that could be the easy solve.
4. Is Kellen Moore the answer to back up Matthew Stafford? He has yet to play an NFL down and always appeared to be a personal project of former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. With Shaun Hill headed toward free agency, Moore is the only backup on the roster and a decision needs to be made on that. If he is, Detroit should feel comfortable at the position. If not, the Lions need to figure out whether bringing in a veteran backup or drafting a rookie to start developing is the smarter way to go.
5. What is the plan with Joique Bell? The running back has said he would like a long-term deal to stay in Detroit. The team clearly seems to like him as a strong option in the backfield. As a restricted free agent, he is likely to come back to the team in 2014, but the question is at what cost. If the team tenders him, it'll be under a cap value likely around $2 million if he is offered a second-round tender. But if the team can work out a cap-friendly long-term deal, that might make more sense.
It has come up with other quarterbacks around the league and now Matthew Stafford is being criticized again for wearing his hat backwards, this time by former Bears coach Mike Ditka in the Detroit Free Press.
Just stop. Seriously. Right now. Equating how someone wears their baseball cap to leadership is misguided at best and living in an alternate reality at worst.
It is called fashion, not a matter of how a team will follow you. If a team is looking up to a player even in part because of how he wears his hat, or if he wears a hat or a bolo or a fedora or a bowler or a Cosby sweater, then that team is going to have many more problems and much bigger leader/follower issues than a football team should have.
So let's stop with this criticism. Sometimes the way you wear a hat just happens to be how you wear a hat. Nothing more. Nothing less. Does appearance sometimes matter? Sure. But this is football here, an athletic activity played for big money, not a summit of world leaders discussing how to save the planet or stop wars. Then again, even the President of the United States has been photographed -- gasp -- wearing his hat turned around.
Perhaps the concerns with Stafford should be directed more to things that actually matter in the realm of football, like his footwork and accuracy and ability to be a strong offensive leader now that Nate Burleson, one of the team's biggest offensive voices, is heading off to another team.
Then again, Burleson wore his hat backwards as well from time to time, so maybe the whole issue with the Lions and their inability to reach a Super Bowl has been how they wear their hats. Instead of their actual play on the field over the past half-century.
And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- Why the Lions likely won't use the franchise tag this season. The week that was and will be. From colleague Scott Brown, Louis Delmas met with the Steelers on Monday.
- The Meet the Free Agents series continues with offensive lineman Dylan Gandy.
- Drafting a wide receiver this year is important for the Lions, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press. And this is a pretty good profile on offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi by Dave Birkett of the Free Press.
- Chris McCosky of the Detroit News says Ndamukong Suh holds all the power in his negotiations.
- This was pretty interesting. Justin Rogers of MLive broke down the salary-cap commitments each team has made to its top three players.
So, too, are your questions. A lot of good questions this week and if I didn't get to yours, apologies but send it in again. As always, the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask. To send in questions, tweet with the hashtag #LionsMailbag or email email@example.com.
Now, on to your questions.
Here are other highlights from his two appearances on 104.5, where you can listen to the morning interview in its entirety. The afternoon interview highlights are below.
- Schwartz said he felt some of his Lions teams were paying for the ineptitude of Lions teams in the past -- I'm using the word ineptitude, not him -- but he clearly felt that was not fair to the players and coaches he worked with. "I was in Detroit for a while and it seemed like we were always paying for the sins of previous teams," Schwartz said. "There was a road losing streak or division losing streak and we were holding teams and guys accountable for stuff that happened 10 years before. That's not always fair in this league. It's part of the conversation of this league but it's not always fair to the current players, the current coaches."
- Like every coach ever, Schwartz thought the Lions were close to being bigger winners last season and he likes a lot of what Detroit had this season. As he mentioned during the morning show, depth was an issue, but the Lions had a good group of players beyond the marquee stars of Stafford, Suh and Calvin Johnson. In all of his star talk, he did not mention Reggie Bush, but I wouldn't read too much into that. "I think there are still some good pieces in place, obviously with Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh," Schwartz said. "You have three marquee players but it's not just them. There are some other good players. I thought our offensive line was good and we were right in it right till the end of the year. All our games were close last year. I think that's one of the things that I think was so frustrating for our fans and for people around the NFL is that every game was so close."
One thing Schwartz did admit is the team, at times, had discipline issues on the field -- perhaps the most in 2011, the same year the team went to the playoffs. He called it a "legitimate concern" but also felt the team was much better, discipline-wise, during his final two seasons with the Lions.
"A couple years ago, particularly in 2011, in safe to say our playoff year, I think that criticism was fair. We had too many penalties after the whistle and things like that," Schwartz said. "We worked really hard the last couple years to clean that stuff up. But once it's on your resume, so to speak, you have a hard time getting it off. I think that's the way it goes with this league. You pay for the sins of past teams and in 2011, I think that was a legitimate concern but it was part of the growing-up process for our team and learning how some of those things affected and things like that.
"I think if you look particularly the last couple years, including last year, you didn't see the same things come up that came up in the past. They were addressed and our team learned from them and they learned and they held them back. We were just a play away from winning a lot of games and I don't know if you'd consider a dropped pass or missed tackle or something like that, I see those as physical errors. I don't see those as discipline errors."
When asked if Stafford had regressed during Schwartz’s final season with the Lions, he pointed to the team’s collapse in the second half of the season, but didn’t put all of that on his then-quarterback.
“He’s going to lead that team to many great things in the future. Everybody has some rough spots here and there, and it’s up to the rest of the team to pick you up.”
Schwartz drafted Stafford months after he was hired as the Lions' head coach in 2009, and worked with him the first five years of his career. When Schwartz looked at his downfall in Detroit, especially this season, one of the things that stood out to him was the lack of depth the Lions had on the roster.
“I think it’s a difficult situation there with depth on the team. They are top-heavy on their cap and rightfully so, guys like Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh,” Schwartz said. “Makes it difficult to have a lot of depth, and when you get those injuries, which everybody does, it’s going to be a difficult road to hoe when you get to the second half of the season.
“We didn’t do a good enough job in the second half of the season.”
The Lions are running into some of those depth issues now as they head toward free agency and May’s draft at least $6 million over the proposed 2014 salary cap one month before the new league year starts.
Good morning and ROOOOAAARRR!!!!
New Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said he wanted to have a quarterbacks coach to go with both himself and head coach Jim Caldwell -- both of whom were hired in part due to their expertise in dealing with quarterbacks.
And on Friday afternoon, hours after Lombardi said that, Detroit added a third voice for quarterback Matthew Stafford: Former Tennessee quarterback James Robert "Jim Bob" Cooter, who was an offensive assistant in Denver. Colleague Jeff Legwold wrote about what Denver was losing.
But what the Lions are gaining is a team approach to working with Stafford, who became the clear focal point of this hiring process. Detroit hired a head coach known for working with Peyton Manning. It hired an offensive coordinator who aided Drew Brees. And now its dedicated position coach worked both with Caldwell in Indianapolis and Manning in Denver.
So the mold is there, as is the new expectations. By hiring these three men, the Lions have a clear vision for what they want Stafford to be. The main concern about having so many quarterback-centric coaches is whether all the different voices Stafford could hear in a week could end up being a giant amount of white noise, leaving the message incapable of reaching him clear and concise.
Lombardi insists that will not be an issue. It was something he dealt with in New Orleans and as long as the message is the same from all three voices, it should only emphasize the point more, not cause confusion. This will now be one of the early things the new Lions staff must figure out.
And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
This week's Lions Mailbag, featuring your questions. Detroit re-signed Dominic Raiola on Friday and why that was an intelligent move by the organization. Lombardi is planning on calling plays for the Lions -- and what the team might be able to expect when that happens. If they had to, who in this draft could replace Calvin Johnson.
Raiola tells Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News he doesn't think coming season will be his last.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says there will be accountability for repeated errors, writes Justin Rogers of MLive.
Bringing back veteran Dominic Raiola was the correct move for Detroit at this time. He was an anchor on the offensive line last season, and had perhaps the best season of his career.
In theory, the Detroit offensive line will remain intact for a second season, giving the Lions continuity with the men blocking for Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
Plus, Raiola never wanted to go anywhere else. He has spent his entire career with Detroit. He was more than willing during this season to take a leadership role even though he didn’t have the captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey. Though the Lions struggled through the second half of the season, he attempted to keep things positive and focused on continually trying to turn things around.
He is one of the few Detroit players left from the 0-16 season in 2008, and has been completely focused on trying to return to the playoffs for the second time in his career. He thought he might get there last season, especially when the Lions were 6-3.
But now, as his career will likely be winding down at some point in the near future, he will be even more focused on obtaining that this season.
The second benefit for Detroit bringing back Raiola for another season is he can now play the role of mentor to his replacement. There is a decent chance the Lions could draft a center this season in the later rounds of the draft. By bringing Raiola back, there will be no pressure on that player to start from the beginning.
He can learn for a year and get used to the speed of the NFL -- and what Lombardi and Stafford are comfortable with -- before he really competes for the starting job. That can be invaluable to the Lions as they make that transition.
That Raiola will be around for that grooming process, whether it is for one season or more, will be extremely important for whatever rookie the team is likely to bring in.
While there will be wrinkles to fit what works best for the Lions personnel versus the New Orleans players, a lot of the base workings will be rooted in what Lombardi learned in New Orleans. This likely means more passing than running and some things that were similar to how things ran in the past.
Over the past five seasons when Lombardi was the quarterbacks coach in New Orleans and Drew Brees was his quarterback, the Saints passed on 59.5 percent of their snaps, completing 68 percent of those passes. The Saints rushed the ball 38 percent of the time and gained 4.31 yards per carry. The quarterback was sacked 2.4 percent of the time.
In those five seasons, New Orleans picked up 1,826 first downs.
The pass breakdown of where Brees and New Orleans threw the ball during those five seasons also gives clues as to what the Lions might see. From 2009 to 2013, the Saints threw the ball behind the line of scrimmage -- screens and flats -- 20.8 percent of the time. They threw between the line of scrimmage and 15 yards from the line of scrimmage 62 percent of the time and went deep -- 15 yards or further through the air -- 17.3 percent of the time.
The Saints were most successful throwing behind the line of scrimmage, completing 74.1 percent of the passes in that range (486 of 656). They were almost as successful during their short-to-medium passing, completing 71.7 percent of passes in that range (1,404-1,958).
New Orleans went deep the least and had the least success there as well. Even then, it was close to a toss-up whether it would be completed. The Saints completed 49.6 percent of their passes over the past five seasons going beyond 15 yards (271-546).
The Saints also featured at least one running back catching passes out of the backfield. The past three seasons, New Orleans had Darren Sproles catch 71 or more passes but didn't use him much as a rusher. Sproles ran less than 100 times in each of those seasons.
His predecessor in the position, Reggie Bush, caught at least 30 passes in 2010 and 2009. He also carried the ball less than 100 times in both of those seasons, but the current Lions running back was injured for parts of both of those seasons.
The main rusher in 2010 was Chris Ivory, who had 137 carries, and Pierre Thomas had 83. The season before might give a better idea to what Detroit's rushing attack could look like. Marcus Bell had 172 carries and Thomas had 147. Bush only had 70.
But Bell and Thomas could resemble what Bush and Joique Bell could look like in Detroit. Most years in New Orleans with Lombardi there, there was a similar breakdown to 2009.
One thing that might not happen, though, is a rusher getting 200 carries like Bush had with the Lions in 2013. Over the past five seasons, no Saints running back had more than 200 rushes. With the Lions in 2013, Bush had 223 and Joique Bell had 166.
The Saints' pass distribution, though, might look somewhat familiar to Detroit next season. Brees and the pass-heavy attack often hit four pass catchers more than others -- the top two wide receivers, the running back and the tight end, Jimmy Graham.
Prior to Graham, the distribution was still similar.
Marques Colston, who will have that role filled by Calvin Johnson in Detroit, had 70 or more catches over the past five seasons and had 1,000-yard seasons in four of those five years. The second receiver in the Saints offense -- a role still to be determined for the Lions -- typically had between 60 and 70 receptions. That number dropped in 2013.
Lombardi, though, said not everything will remain exactly the same. So there should be tweaks -- but expect a lot of passing from Detroit and potentially big offensive production numbers from the Lions in 2014.
So as teams across the country sign players Wednesday, here’s a look back at where the Detroit Lions were ranked when they were high school seniors. For rankings from 2006 forward, the rankings used are ESPN’s rankings. From 2002 to 2006, we used the Rivals.com rankings.
In some cases, no rankings were available. If something is not denoted as coming from another site, it is ESPN’s ranking from that year.
What you’ll see is most of Detroit’s players were not highly-rated players coming out of high school. Some had no ranking at all. Just goes to show how blue chip recruits in high school don’t always turn into top-level college or NFL players.
This post covers the offense. The next post will cover the defense and specialists.
- Matthew Stafford (Class of 2006): No. 1 quarterback; No. 5 overall player. Signed with Georgia.
- Shaun Hill: Not ranked (came out before rankings were available) but there is this fascinating story about his recruiting backstory from the Baltimore Sun in 2000.
- Kellen Moore (Class of 2007): No. 162 quarterback. Signed with Boise State.
- Reggie Bush (2003): No. 1 running back per Rivals.com; No. 2 overall player per Rivals.com. Signed with USC.
- Joique Bell (2005): Not listed anywhere among the Rivals rankings for the 2005 class. Signed with Wayne State.
- Theo Riddick (2009): No. 48 athlete; No. 65 in his region (the Northeast). Signed with Notre Dame.
- Mikel Leshoure (2008): Not ranked at all by the ESPN rankings. No. 28 running back by Rivals.com. Signed with Illinois.
- Montell Owens (2002): No information on his recruitment was available. Signed with Maine.
- Steven Miller (2009): Not rated in 2009 out of high school when he signed with Nassau Community College. Not rated in 2011 when he signed with Appalachian State.
- Calvin Johnson (2004): No. 6 wide receiver by Rivals.com and No. 37 overall player. (If you’re curious, Early Doucet was the No. 1 receiver in his class according to Rivals.) Signed with Georgia Tech.
- Nate Burleson (2000): Can’t find a ranking for Burleson from 2000, but here’s an interesting story about his recruitment from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Signed with Nevada.
- Kris Durham (2006): No. 66 receiver. No. 200 player in his region. Signed with Georgia.
- Kevin Ogletree (2005): No. 59 wide receiver according to Rivals.com. Signed with Virginia.
- Jeremy Ross (2006): No. 174 wide receiver. Signed with Cal.
- Micheal Spurlock (2001): Nothing available from a rankings or story perspective. Signed with Mississippi.
- Ryan Broyles (2007): Rated as the No. 58 wide receiver in his class. Signed with Oklahoma.
- Cody Wilson (2009): Not rated in 2009. Signed with Central Michigan.
- Corey Fuller (2008): Not rated by either service. Signed with Kansas on a track scholarship. Transferred to Virginia Tech for football. Was an indoor All-American in track in high school.
- Patrick Edwards (2007): Not rated by either service. Was a walk-on at Houston.
- Brandon Pettigrew (2004): Was not ranked by Rivals.com with a number. A two-star recruit by Rivals. Signed with Oklahoma State.
- Joseph Fauria (2008): No. 15 tight end. Signed with Notre Dame (eventually transferred to UCLA).
- Michael Williams (2008): No. 26 tight end and No. 20 player in Alabama. Signed with Alabama.
- Matt Veldman (2007): Not rated by ESPN or by Rivals. Signed with North Dakota State.
- Dorin Dickerson (2006): No. 11 wide receiver in his class and No. 74 prospect overall.
- Dominic Raiola (1997): No available recruiting rankings, but he was the first player from Hawaii to accept a scholarship to Nebraska, according to the Nebraska website.
- Rob Sims (2002): No. 20 offensive guard according to Rivals.com. Signed with Ohio State.
- Riley Reiff (2008): Rated as the No. 84 defensive end. Signed with Iowa.
- Larry Warford (2009): Rated as the No. 51 offensive guard. Signed with Kentucky.
- Corey Hilliard (2003): Not rated by number as an offensive tackle in his class by Rivals.com. Rated as a two-star recruit. Signed with Oklahoma State.
- Jason Fox (2006): Rated as the No. 22 tight end. Signed with Miami (Fla.).
- Leroy Harris (2002): Rated as the No. 42 defensive tackle by Rivals.com. Signed with N.C. State.
- Rodney Austin (2007): Not rated by ESPN.com or Rivals in his class. Signed with Elon.
- Dylan Gandy (2000): Not rated by any service I could find, but here’s an interesting story from when he was drafted with some backstory of how he ended up at Texas Tech.
- LaAdrian Waddle (2009): Rated as the No. 19 offensive tackle in his class and the No. 43 player in the Midlands. Signed with Texas Tech.