NFC North: Matthew Stafford

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Golden Tate chose to sign with the Detroit Lions during free agency, part of the appeal to the wide receiver was the offense laid out to him.

After spending the first four years of his career in Seattle, where the Seahawks ran the ball just as much as they threw it -- including 155 more runs than passes during the last three seasons after the team acquired Marshawn Lynch -- he has now moved to an offense that likes to throw.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Duane Burleson/AP PhotoVeteran wide receiver Golden Tate is anxious to see how his first season with the Lions will play out.
And potentially throw a lot.

This is why, when Tate says he believes he can better his 64 receptions and 898 yards from last season, it is a plausible thought even though he moved from being the No. 1 receiver in Seattle to the No. 2 receiver in Detroit.

"I think my numbers can be way better in this offense naturally how it's set up," Tate said. "I was coming from, you gotta think I was in the toughest division with the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals, defensively, with a run-heavy offense and now I'm going to a pass-happy offense where I'm on the same team as the best player in the league, one of the best players in the league who is going to draw a lot of attention, a lot of double coverage, which is going to leave me with a lot of single coverage with a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks.

"So mentally I think I should be able to excel and do very well here."

The player Tate is referring to is Calvin Johnson, who should still draw the majority of a defense's attention even with the additions of Tate and tight end Eric Ebron along with running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and tight ends Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew.

Those are a lot of players for Matthew Stafford to choose between on a given play, so while Tate might not receive as many looks as he did in Seattle, he should see much more favorable coverage.

If Tate wants to eclipse those numbers, he might have to do it on fewer than the 98 targets he had last season. He did say, as many players will, he would sacrifice individual stats if Detroit can finally win.

"My goals are just to be better than I was last year," Tate said. "I think every year I just want to be better than I was last year. Just a little bit better. Coach (Jim) Caldwell does a great job of using, we just want to be six inches better, that's what I want to do. I want to help this team win.

"If my numbers aren't as great and we have 11 wins and go to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs, I'm happy with that. I want this team to win. I think we definitely have what it takes to win and it's time to win now."

Caldwell, though, has no interest in making any predictions about statistics -- or about wins. He passed on commenting about season projections and when told of Tate's thought that he could put up bigger numbers in this offense, he downplayed that as well.

"You don't know. It could be game-to-game," Caldwell said. "You often see within schemes, in particular those, we'll run the ball as well, you'll see certain schemes and how they decide to attack you, one game one guy might catch six balls and the next game he might get two. One game a guy might get 12 and the next game he might get none.

"Just kind of depends on the situation so it would be tough for me to predict that."

One prediction will be easy enough -- Johnson will still see a lot of attention and if offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is able to do it correctly, that should open up chances for everyone else on the offense.

Matthew Stafford ranked No. 71

August, 20, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The ESPN #NFLRank project continues to roll on, and the second Detroit Lions player has made an appearance.

Reggie Bush popped up on Monday at No. 98 among offensive players. Now his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, has shown up on the list.

Stafford was ranked as the No. 71 offensive player in the league in a poll of 90 ESPN writers and analysts.

This is actually a big jump for Stafford, which is somewhat surprising considering the second half of his 2013 season, when he threw as many touchdowns as interceptions (13). Stafford was ranked No. 94 in last year's poll.

He is also considered the No. 4 quarterback in fantasy entering the season and is expected to put up big numbers in new coordinator Joe Lombardi's offense.

So far, as written about Tuesday, Stafford has looked extremely sharp this preseason.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford doesn't believe he is any faster than a season ago. Didn't think he made any physical improvements, either. Doesn't think he is "any more jacked," either.

The sixth-year Detroit Lions quarterback is the same as he was physically. It is everywhere else, possibly, where the former No. 1 pick has changed.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
AP Photo/Paul SancyaQB Matthew Stafford has worked hard this offseason to understand the Detroit Lions' offense under new head coach Jim Caldwell.
Off the field, he became engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Kelly Hall. On the field, he also possibly engaged a bit more, having to learn a new offense and new terminology for the second time in his professional career.

It was that engagement on the field that caught new coach Jim Caldwell's attention almost immediately.

"He left this spring with I think a real solid understanding of what we're doing from an offensive standpoint," Caldwell said. "He came back this fall further ahead than when he left. That tells me that he studied.

"That he obviously dedicated himself to getting better and he's moving at a pretty rapid pace in terms of doing a lot of the nuances that come along with operating this particular offense."

It is this offense that gave some of the Lions some issues early on, from the longer terminology insisted upon by new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to the change in routes run from certain positions and how many yards a certain route is supposed to be run.

Add in a new receiver -- Golden Tate -- and a first-round rookie tight end in Eric Ebron and there are timing issues to secure as well.

Stafford has apparently handled it all comfortably both in practice -- where he had an interception-less streak lasting almost two weeks -- and in his first real action, where he was 9 of 10 passing with his lone incompletion dropped by Reggie Bush.

"For me, the biggest challenge this offseason was trying to get the mastery of the playbook, the new system we have coming in," Stafford said. "So that's what I spent most of my time and effort on and with that comes new drops and new reads and things like that.

"I don't know if there's one thing that stands out to me. Just being an overall better player."

That had to happen, though, because Stafford realized from the day he stepped into the Lions facility in 2009 as the No. 1 overall pick the franchise would largely succeed or fail based on his play.

He looked at the commonalities among playoff teams and one of the things he noticed was the proficiency of the quarterbacks who made runs to conference championship games and Super Bowls. He understood he would have to attain a certain level in order to provide that for the Lions.

He said Tuesday he has always held himself to similar standards -- and his measure of that is the points the Lions score and how few turnovers he ends up responsible for. Those were numbers Detroit -- and Stafford -- struggled with in the latter half of 2013, when Stafford threw 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and had the No. 31 passer rating in the NFL over his final eight games.

His interpretation of high level -- something he clearly didn't achieve last season -- remains constant.

"It's tough to put numbers on it," Stafford said. "You just want to go out there and make good throws, make good decisions, limit turnovers, make sure we're in the right play every time if you can and with the team, that's the biggest thing."

If he does that, then he should have a season closer to 2011, when he was considered one of the brighter young quarterbacks in the NFL. Stafford may still be young from an age standpoint at 26, but he is also entering the prime of his career.

Six seasons in and the Lions shouldn't see the same movie from Stafford as they did last season. After the supposed improvements his new coaches made, they should see a sleeker, sharper version. The early results have indicated this as well.

"He's worked at it extremely hard," Caldwell said. "Often times you'll find guys will look for an excuse why they weren't as effective in certain phases. Hey we got a new system, it's real tough, learning curve is a little difficult. He's made none of those.

"He came out, he's worked, he's functioned and he's gotten better as a result of that and I look forward to him just keep improving."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- During the spring, Matthew Stafford admitted there was a lot to pick up in the new offensive system, only the second one he’s had to digest in the NFL.

Through two weeks of training camp, though, Stafford has not shown many issues. Anything positive that happens for the Detroit Lions this season will start with the improvement of Stafford, who needed to show better decision-making and efficiency in practice and in games.

So far, not bad. He has not thrown an interception during any serious team or seven-on-seven periods in the first two weeks of training camp.

“I’m being coached differently,” Stafford said. “Our drops are different. Our reads are different. Our plays are totally different. It was kind of nice to scrap everything and start from the new way they wanted me to do it.

“I tried to embrace myself in that as hard as I possibly can and it’s been fun.”

That Stafford has shown this already -- along with strong rapport with receivers Golden Tate and Kevin Ogletree to go with Calvin Johnson -- is a massive positive for the Lions as they search for offensive efficiency.

Both Stafford and his offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, understand that pressure is on Stafford every play in practice. So far, he’s handled it.

“That’s the quarterback position,” Lombardi said. “All of the pressure is always going to be on him [Stafford]. Like all competitive people, and he’s a highly competitive guy, they put more pressure on themselves than anyone else does.

“It’s fair.”

It also needs to continue as Stafford continues to learn the offense.

Three reasons for optimism:

  • [+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
    AP Photo/Carlos OsorioPlayers are buying into new coach Jim Caldwell's focus on efficiency.
    This team appears to truly believe in Jim Caldwell, at least for now. Yes, it is easy to speak positively of a new regime before a regular-season game has been played, but the players are buying into his focus on efficiency. From his elimination of stretching periods in practice to his promise that he’ll treat every player equally, the Lions have been appreciative of Caldwell's approach compared to the previous regime under Jim Schwartz. Accountability has been a big focus for Caldwell, and so far it has worked.
  • Megatron. It might sound simplistic, but if this team has a healthy Johnson, that is a massive reason for optimism because of what he is able to do to opposing defenses. Johnson has looked impressive through the first two weeks of camp, making jaw-dropping plays essentially every day. This is typical for Johnson, who has been doing that since his freshman year at Georgia Tech in 2004. But Johnson looks healed from his offseason knee and finger surgeries, and the Lions are being smart with his repetitions during practice. As long as Johnson is healthy, Detroit can feel good about its passing game.
  • Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have been dominant. Both entered camp in great shape and are playing for future contracts this season. If the Lions receive first-round efforts from both Suh (expected) and Fairley (questionable) in 2014, Detroit could have the dominant defensive front it has sought since it drafted them in back-to-back first rounds.
Three reasons for pessimism:

  • If Stafford gets hurt, the Lions are in major trouble. Yes, many teams can say that about their starting quarterback, but in previous years Shaun Hill gave Detroit a level of confidence that it could remain competitive if Stafford were to go down. So far, No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky has looked somewhat rough both in practice and in one preseason game. Kellen Moore showed some flashes of potential in the preseason opener, but he was mostly facing players who won’t make Cleveland’s 53-man roster. More than any other season, Stafford’s health is of supreme importance right now.
  • [+] EnlargeDetroit's Matthew Stafford
    Leon Halip/Getty ImagesA lot of the Lions' success in 2014 will depend on how well Matthew Stafford picks up the new offense and if he can stay healthy.
    The secondary is still questionable. The Lions are set with their starters here, but the depth is still up in the air at both cornerback and safety. Beyond Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay -- and even with them -- the Lions have no sure things at cornerback and in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, that is not good for Detroit. Safety appears to be a little stronger both in starters (Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo) and also depth (Don Carey, DeJon Gomes, Isa Abdul-Quddus) but lacks a top-end playmaker.
  • The offense has still looked a little shaky. Stafford has practiced well, especially with Johnson, but the defense has looked stronger than the offense on multiple occasions. There is still a large learning curve, but considering what the Lions have put into their offense in the offseason, that might not bode well for a team trying to score points in bunches. Part of the issue might come from Detroit’s multiplicity offensively, with players lining up in different spots on almost every play. Early on the defense has looked stronger.
Observation Deck:

  • Detroit has stayed mostly healthy through the first two weeks of camp. Part of that might have to do with the way Detroit has practiced this summer -- short, efficient, smart splitting of reps and days off for veterans. So far, Caldwell has taken care of his players.
  • Eric Ebron is coming along. He had a rough first week of camp, dropping passes and looking lost at times. Since then, the first-round pick has been much better both with ball security and route running. He has probably the most challenging camp of any player on the team as he’s a rookie and lining up in four different spots within the Lions offense. He is making progress.
  • The kicking situation has the potential to be a mess and, at best, an untested situation. Neither Nate Freese nor Giorgio Tavecchio has kicked in a regular-season game. Freese is a rookie and Tavecchio has been cut the past two camps. Both have looked decent-to-good in practice thus far, but it’ll be interesting to see how much the Lions trust an inexperienced kicker the first time the game is on the line. Punter Sam Martin has been impeccable at camp, though, and looks to have improved from his strong rookie performance.

Lions Camp Report: Day 12

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The biggest news of the day, as covered here earlier, is Nick Fairley appearing to run with the second team. Fairley wouldn't talk about it. Jim Caldwell said it wasn't necessarily the second team -- although any defensive unit without Ndamukong Suh is likely not the first group -- and Fairley's replacement, C.J. Mosley, was pretty buttoned up in his answers. The one obvious thing was Fairley did not appear happy after practice. Considering how much attention was paid to him during the offseason and the team did not pick up his contract, this has to be at least a mildly discouraging sign for the Lions and something worth monitoring. Also worth monitoring -- Fairley's weight. He doesn't look quite as svelte as he did during the spring. The Lions are going to need him to be successful this season, there is not much question about that.
  • In non-Fairley news, Detroit added music to its practice Monday afternoon to help prepare for crowd noise as the Lions head to Oakland for their second preseason game Friday. There wasn't a ton of it -- three songs including what sounded like “Planet Rock,” the 1982 classic by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force. Caldwell said the players are allowed to submit playlists for practice with one caveat: No profanity. “Obviously it creates some distraction for you. We were trying to do the same thing basically with the music,” Caldwell said. “One day here we had a Motown session. We have different music to try and accomplish the same thing. What we're trying to do is simulate crowd noise so they can't hear. They have to communicate a lot louder with one another. If it happens to be something that they like, they tend to catch the rhythm of it. But some things, obviously, I'm not quite certain what songs they were.”
  • Matthew Stafford's interception-free streak during training camp ended with a thud of the hands Monday afternoon, as a ball from Stafford tipped off the hands of Brandon Pettigrew and right into the waiting arms of cornerback Bill Bentley, who might have had a pick-six had the Lions been wearing pads. The play was immediately followed up by another interception, this one from Dan Orlovsky that tipped off a leaping receiver's hands.
  • Ryan Broyles had the offensive play of the day, jumping in the air to catch a ball thrown by Orlovsky. It showed just how much better Broyles feels now than a season ago, when he was still rehabilitating his torn ACL. Talked with Broyles a bit after practice about his mindset and where he is right now, so look for that Tuesday.
  • There were some new faces missing from Lions' practice Monday. Larry Warford was not at practice at all -- and MLive reported it is an illness. I did not spot Ezekiel Ansah at practice. He may have been there, but the media's angle during indoor practices cuts off part of the closer sideline. He remains on the active PUP list. TJ Jones also remains on the active PUP list. Don Carey missed practice as well. When asked why he was out he said, “Everything's everything, baby. I'll talk to y'all later.”
  • Actor Jeff Daniels showed up at practice Monday.
  • The Lions return to practice Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. ET for a practice closed to the public but open to invited guests.

Lions Camp Report: Day 11

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Kind of a weird practice for the Lions on Friday as it was a hybrid of what Jim Caldwell said he tries to accomplish on Fridays and Saturdays. So the length was a bit longer than a typical walk-through, but players weren't in pads, there was no hitting and most things were done at a speed much slower than what anyone will see Saturday night. This is all pretty typical and a sign that actual football is close to happening for the 2014 season in Detroit. It was also the first practice of the season not open to either season-ticket holders or some portion of the general fan base, so an overall quiet morning of work.
  • The better news for Detroit is the return of Eric Ebron and Calvin Johnson to practice Friday. Since Johnson missed Thursday as an excused absence, it wasn't too surprising to see him back on the field Friday. Ebron's return to the walk-through gives a little larger window to his potential debut Saturday night, but it'll still be a tricky call for Caldwell on how much to use him, depending on what his undisclosed injury was. Unlike a veteran such as Johnson, Ebron could use the work to familiarize himself with the offense and the pace of the NFL as a rookie. Joique Bell missed Friday's practice for "personal reasons," per Caldwell.
  • An area of concern for Detroit at this point might be Ezekiel Ansah. It would be stunning if Ansah played Saturday night considering he is still on the active physically unable to perform list, and days of practice to get him up to speed both physically and mentally with the new defensive scheme are starting to dwindle. The positive for Ansah is he keeps working on the side with athletic trainers and appears to be moving well when he does this, but until he is medically cleared and practices for a few days with his teammates, it's unclear how far behind he may be. He is a critical part of Detroit's defense this fall as he is expected to occupy the open defensive end spot that will have many pass rushing responsibilities. It is where Ansah thrived his rookie season, but at some point the Lions need to see him on the field.
  • Caldwell discussed the backup quarterback situation earlier this week and it sounds like there are no minds made up on the No. 3 quarterback slot -- or whether the Lions will carry three quarterbacks at all. At this point, if the team kept three on the 53-man roster, that third quarterback would almost definitely be Kellen Moore, but unless things change drastically, he won't be the No. 2 quarterback. James Franklin is still a major question mark, but from the limited amount he has shown, he is a long way from contributing to an NFL team. At this point, his best shot of sticking would be if the Lions kept two quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky) and keeping him as a major developmental project on the practice squad. It'll be interesting to see what happens during preseason games, though, where he should get some snaps.
  • The Lions don't practice again until Monday -- playing Cleveland in the preseason opener Saturday before an off day Sunday.

Lions Camp Report: Day 10

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • With receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron -- two of Detroit's biggest offensive pieces both physically and in terms of usage -- not practicing Thursday, there were more opportunities for others to try and stand out during practice. Joseph Fauria, who has been used with the first team often during the first two weeks of camp, saw a significant uptick in reps and appeared to fare fairly well. Fauria is going to make the team, but he needs to prove in this camp he has taken a step from last season, where he was primarily used in the red zone. If Ebron doesn't play Saturday, he'll have a large opportunity to do so before likely giving way to Jordan Thompson and Andrew Maxwell later in the game. Johnson, meanwhile, had an excused absence. With Johnson not at practice, Kris Durham appeared to receive more first-team reps than normal.
  • Speaking of Maxwell, the essentially unknown tight end had the play of practice in a rep with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford fired the ball to Maxwell and it hit off of him. Then, it bounced off of safety Glover Quin and somehow right back into the hands of Maxwell, who made the catch and kept on running. It looked like one of those plays you'd see on an NFL Films highlight reel for years if it happened in a game instead of a preseason practice.
  • DeJon Gomes is making a strong push to win the fourth safety spot behind starters Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo and third safety/special teams leader Don Carey. Gomes has consistently backed up Ihedigbo, including when the starter briefly left practice after being kicked in the leg. Gomes has also shown up a lot on the first-team special teams units, which is critical for any depth player trying to make a roster.
  • As part of the veterans-getting-rest plan mentioned multiple times earlier in the week, rookie offensive lineman Travis Swanson has received a lot of time with the first-team offense, either at left guard spelling Rob Sims or at center, replacing Dominic Raiola. While there is no indication Sims or Raiola have anything to worry about when it comes to their jobs, this sort of experience can only provide value to Swanson both this season and down the road, when he eventually becomes a starter. Don't be surprised to see a lot of him Saturday night, perhaps in multiple positions.
  • The Ford family made another appearance at practice Thursday afternoon. While this is my first training camp covering the Lions, veteran reporter Dave Birkett noted the family has been out at camp more often than in the past few seasons. Of course, the team sort of changed ownership in the offseason after the death of William Clay Ford Sr. His wife, Martha, now is the owner of the team and she was at practice.
  • Darren Keyton missed another practice Thursday, as did Ezekiel Ansah, who continued doing side work. Also missing practice -- and not being in attendance at all -- was linebacker Cory Greenwood. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday night that Greenwood has an excused absence. Both Ansah and receiver TJ Jones remain on the active PUP list.
  • The Lions have their final practice before the preseason opener at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Allen Park. It is not open to the public.

Lions Camp Report: Day 7

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions seem to be reaching a point where they just want to face anybody else. Monday morning’s practice appeared particularly physical and while there were no fights and only one real injury concern -- Darius Slay’s neck will be fine -- it led to some big collisions. Perhaps the biggest one came from running back George Winn, who flattened rookie safety Jerome Couplin in the open field. It was the second straight practice where Winn leveled a defensive player on a run.

“You can see he’s a physical guy as well,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what he does.”

Winn was a player the Lions brought in just before training camp.
  • The play of the day came from, who else, Calvin Johnson. Returning to practice after sitting out Saturday’s scrimmage, Johnson leaped over a defensive player while trying to catch a pass from Matthew Stafford. Johnson easily came down with the ball, gained his footing for a second and went on from there. This reminded me of something his college coach, Chan Gailey, said to me last year. By the second season, he almost took for granted those plays by Johnson because they were almost a daily practice occurrence. And you wonder why Johnson is considered a nightmare for opposing defensive backs to cover.
  • The kicking competition continues to tighten. While Nate Freese continues to appear to have a slight hold on the job, he might not for much longer. Freese missed two field goals (3 of 5 overall) Monday morning while Giorgio Tavecchio made all five of his. While Freese has struggled since camp opened, Tavecchio has only missed one field goal by my count -- on the first day of practice. Caldwell said after practice he’ll use data to make the kicking decision, and Tavecchio is piling some strong data right now to win the gig.
  • Overall, this was a very strong day for the defense, especially during the running period. The running backs had very few holes to run through – especially so once the starters took a breather. It was similar during some passing plays, with either Stafford having to take off on the run or, in one case, C.J. Mosley busting through the line to touch-sack backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky.
  • When Slay went out, the Lions kind of offered up a little bit of the depth chart at cornerback – one of the tightest competitions out there. With Slay out, the Lions went to Cassius Vaughn on the outside next. So it would seem like the cornerback tiers right now are Slay and Rashean Mathis as starters, Bill Bentley and Vaughn as the top reserves and then Jonte Green, Nevin Lawson and Chris Greenwood behind them. It may be in that order, although Lawson will end up with a roster spot since he also plays nickel. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out Saturday in the preseason opener.
  • One noticeable thing during practices -- and I'll have a little more on this either tonight or Tuesday morning -- but the Lions haven't been stretching and warming up in a designated period during camp. That, apparently, is by design as Caldwell is trusting his players to take care of themselves on their own. So far, with only two minor injury scares, it appears to be working.

The Lions are back at practice Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. with an open practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
3:00
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions had a scrimmage Saturday during their yearly family day, dividing the roster into the first-team offense and second-team defense on one side and the second-team offense and first-team defense on the other. The first-team offense and defense had all the typical players save Calvin Johnson, who did not practice Saturday. That wasn’t surprising considering the Lions’ focus on keeping their star as fresh as possible. In their daily switch, LaAdrian Waddle lined up with the first team at right tackle and Corey Hilliard with the second team, but that competition between two players who will make the roster continues. Defensively, Tahir Whitehead received a lot of time at linebacker spelling Stephen Tulloch.
  • Big day for Eric Ebron, who caught a really long pass from Matthew Stafford and appeared to be more confident on the field than he has at any point this camp. It’s still going to be a learning process for him for a bit and there will certainly be mistakes, but Saturday was encouraging. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed comfortable with Ebron’s progress as he learns the multitude of spots he is expected to line up at this fall. Ebron’s play was one of the highlights for the Lions’ offense of the scrimmage considering his issues with drops.
  • The Lions had some issues snapping the ball when Dominic Raiola was not part of the scrimmage. Both Darren Keyton – playing with the first group – and Travis Swanson had bad snaps to quarterbacks, causing issues. In Swanson’s case, it led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by rookie Larry Webster, one of the better plays the defensive end has made during camp. While Swanson is still expected to be the backup center when everything shakes out a month from now, those issues amplified the importance of Raiola and his presence again this season.
  • Detroit’s cornerback situation behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis could get interesting. Jonte Green had his best day of camp thus far, breaking up two passes intended for receiver Ryan Broyles, who has not run with the first team much this camp. Chris Greenwood struggled again Saturday as well as those two potentially compete for one roster spot. Slay, Mathis, Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson and probably Cassius Vaughn appear to be ahead of both Green and Greenwood on the depth chart – although Lawson is going to mostly play nickel. Still a long way to go in this competition with not much settled in the first week.
  • Another good day for Detroit’s kickers as Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio made all their field goals attempted during the scrimmage, including a 50-yarder from Tavecchio that sailed through the uprights with ease. Unlike last season, when David Akers won the kicking job fairly easily, this season it seems like this could go on for a while. A wrinkle here could be something Caldwell said Saturday – that the team would consider using punter Sam Martin on extremely long field goal attempts. He compared it to his situation in Indianapolis, where Caldwell considered using punter Pat McAfee on long field goals. McAfee never attempted a field goal in a game, though. So something to consider as this competition progresses -- especially as Martin has an extremely impressive camp punting.

The Lions will take Sunday off before practicing again Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Lions Camp Report: Day 5

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
8:00
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Rough day for the first-team offense during a two-minute drill situation. Defensive ends George Johnson and Darryl Tapp -- neither of whom is expected to be a first-team defender this season -- had touch sacks of Matthew Stafford. Stafford and the offense also went three-and-out on one possession with the quarterback being forced to throw away multiple passes when no one was open. Not surprisingly, Ndamukong Suh was also causing havoc up the middle. The second team fared better, scoring a touchdown and having Giorgio Tavecchio also make a 41-yard field goal to close practice. Jim Caldwell didn't seem too concerned, though, with any of the issues the first-team offense was having.
  • Why not? Well, the first-team offense still has Calvin Johnson, who made two exceptional catches Friday to show why he is the top receiver in the game. He grabbed a touchdown in 7-on-7 after the play was whistled dead, but the way he plucked it was exceptional. There was another play in which a Stafford pass looked like it was headed nowhere, then Johnson came out of his break, dove perfectly on the low ball and caught the ball in front of Chris Greenwood in 11-on-11. It was one of those plays that no defensive back can do anything about. And that has nothing to do with Greenwood, as other cornerbacks will attest to.
  • This was perhaps the best day for Detroit's kicking competitors thus far. Combined, Nate Freese and Tavecchio went 11-for-11, including Tavecchio's 41-yarder to end practice in a two-minute situation. Both also made field goals from 53 yards during a special teams section of practice. Meanwhile, Sam Martin is having a great camp punting. He continually boots punts of more than 65 yards and appears stronger than his rookie season already.
  • Among the defenders who stood out was rangy cornerback Mohammed Seisay. The Nebraska product, whom I wrote about more in depth here, is still a longshot to make the roster. However, with uncertainty in the final one or two cornerback spots, a strong camp could make him a consideration. He read a pass to tight end Eric Ebron perfectly during one-on-ones and broke the play up well. He wasn't the only defensive back to grab attention, as Darius Slay continued to have a strong camp, including a good pass breakup in the one-on-one session.
  • Mentioned Kevin Ogletree on Thursday and he put together another good practice, but Corey Fuller is starting to catch some notice as well among wide receivers. He caught a long pass in the two-minute drill from Dan Orlovsky after easily beating Greenwood. He also had nice catches during the receiver-vs.-defensive back session on both Nevin Lawson and Cassius Vaughn. He is a much more confident player than he was a season ago and looks like a completely different one -– an assessment he said he agreed with following practice.
  • The Lions return to practice at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for their final day of the first week before taking Sunday off. Like Friday, Saturday is expected to be a fully-padded practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 4

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
7:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Referees were at practice Thursday and seemed to throw several flags throughout the session. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said the officials will be around for a few days to help the players become aware of new rules. The specific area of emphasis, Caldwell explained, is pulling of the jerseys. “It’s really going to affect everybody, you know,” Caldwell said. “It used to be if you grabbed a jersey and you restricted a player, if they saw the shoulders turn a little bit or maybe his stride changed, they would throw the flag. “But now, it’s any tug of the jersey, regardless of what it does to you and the quarterback can be looking over there and the foul can occur behind him and they still are going to throw the flag. So there’s a huge emphasis on that. Those are some of the things we have to make certain we get accustomed to.”
  • Red zone was a focus of Thursday’s practice. On both fields, there was a significant period dedicated to work 20 yards from the end zone and in. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was fairly sharp during this period, highlighted by a leaping touchdown catch by receiver Kris Durham in coverage. It was a catch with a high degree of difficulty by Durham, who was rotating in on the same field along with the majority of the players who have been running with the first team.
  • Speaking of the offense, this was the sharpest the offense has looked throughout the first four days. There were still some throwaways and dump-downs, but Stafford had a pretty good day, completing a large majority of his passes throughout the practice session. Eric Ebron, whose drops have been chronicled here the past three days, had a very nice catch at one point as the ball was headed out of bounds. That is the positive part of why the team drafted him in May.
  • Rookie Kyle Van Noy appears to be starting to make an impact. The linebacker worked with the first-team defense during portions of Thursday’s practice and is starting to push to replace Ashlee Palmer at the SAM spot. After the draft, general manager Martin Mayhew indicated they believed Van Noy would be a starter pretty quickly. Tahir Whitehead also caught Caldwell’s attention, and while he isn’t a starter, the head coach said the third-year pro out of Temple continually shows up well on film. He won’t supplant Stephen Tulloch, but that, plus his special-teams ability, should put him in a good spot.

The Lions return to practice Friday at 3:30 p.m. for a practice open to the public.

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The most important and interesting item to come out of the first day of Lions training camp had nothing to do with anything the team did on the field. Instead, it had everything to do with Detroit's decision to table contract talks with Ndamukong Suh until after the season. The Lions said they decided to do this to make sure the focus remained solely on the season ahead, but they also took attention away from the first day of training camp with an off-the-field issue. At least for Detroit, it can avoid daily questions about it from now on.
  • Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a bit of a rough day. He injured his thumb during the first half of practice, ending the second round pick's participation in the first training camp practice of his career. He didn't seem too bothered by it, though. “I should be out there (Tuesday),” Van Noy said. Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed a bit less optimistic, saying “we'll see how he goes the rest of the week.” Caldwell said the team wouldn't be able to determine the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
  • The Lions' secondary had a pretty decent first day in 11-on-11 work. Both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis broke up passes intended for receiver Golden Tate, and the secondary covered well enough on other plays in the full-team periods to force Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to have to throw dump-off passes to running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush instead. It's only one day and they are not in pads yet, but a decent sign for a Lions secondary that needs to put together a few good days early.
  • One of two Lions players who did not practice -- as expected -- was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Caldwell said Sunday he did not have a timetable for his return. Ansah spent most of Monday's practice off on the side chatting with folks. When asked about his return, he said he had no idea when he would come back. Another defensive end, Kalonji Kashama, was released by the team Monday.
  • In the battle for receivers not named Tate or Calvin Johnson, both Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree had nice catches Monday. Ogletree had an impressive catch over the middle -- although he probably would have been drilled by a defensive back had it been a real game. Durham made a nice catch running an out on the sideline as well. In what is expected to be an extremely tight battle, plays like that are going to be noticed every practice.
  • This will be worth paying attention to throughout the first week: Corey Hilliard took snaps at right tackle ahead of LaAdrian Waddle during 11-on-11 periods Monday. Hilliard is more of a veteran than Waddle and Waddle is still expected to win the job, but an interesting small side note on the first day.
Matthew Stafford will make his season debut for the Detroit Lions on Monday on the field -- and he'll also have two television advertisements doing the same thing.

Stafford appears in ads for DISH Network and they are ... interesting to say the least.

His fiancee, Kelly Hall, co-stars in one ad where Stafford is a surgeon trying to operate with a chainsaw. The second ad has puppets apparently trying to keep Stafford on a mountain.

Here's the ad with Hall. Here's the ad with the puppets.

Enjoy at your leisure.
A season ago, when colleague Ron Jaworski tabbed Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford as the 13th-best quarterback in the NFL, there were some questions about why he was so low.

Stafford
Stafford
Stafford is now lower this season.

Jaworski, who ranked 32 quarterbacks, placed Stafford firmly in the middle at No. 16 -- and it has nothing to do with his talent. Jaworski lauds Stafford's arm, saying his physical skills belong in the top 10. But as many have pointed out -- including in this space -- his decisions and certain throws have always been his problem.

General manager Martin Mayhew fired Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan in part because of this, replacing them with an offensive-minded staff focused on quarterback development. The Lions' hope is Stafford has a strong enough season where he finally climbs into the top 10 on this list, since it was based on last season's production and throws.

Jaworski also took issue with Stafford's accuracy and reading of coverages, common concerns when it comes to the franchise quarterback in Detroit.

Stafford is not the lowest-rated quarterback in the NFC North. Not even close. To find out who is -- check out his rankings at this link Insider.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.

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