Published August 02, 2010
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions will need a lot of help to fix their franchise after winning only one playoff game in more than a half-century and becoming the NFL's first 0-16 team two years ago.
Matthew Stafford seems to give them a chance and he's not worried about the pressure that comes with being the source of hope.
"I put more pressure on myself than anyone," Stafford said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press. "If I miss a ball by a little, it's unacceptable to me."
Stafford was a little high and slightly low on consecutive passes during the morning practice, leading to him flailing his arms and muttering to himself.
"I want to be as perfect as I can," he said.
As a leader, he just might be.
Stafford has the requisite arm an NFL QB needs, along with the personality. The easygoing Texan has a ton of confidence and he naturally attracts athletes ready to follow him.
He slaps more hands and helmets than anyone on the practice field. On the sideline, he can easily transition from talking about routes and footwork with receivers to shooting the breeze about vacationing.
Stafford and some teammates went to the Masters earlier this year and he's convinced bonding away from the field can help win games.
"It's huge," he said. "We have a bunch of guys pulling for each other and we all understand it's going to take all of us to turn this around."
A lot of it, though, will depend on Stafford's right arm and the split-second decisions he makes between his ears.
Stafford showed signs of promise last season, especially when he threw a fifth touchdown to beat Cleveland after getting knocked out of the game, but he threw 20 interceptions to trail only Chicago's Jay Cutler.
"I can't turn the ball over so much because that killed us last year," Stafford said. "I need to be more judicious with the ball."
Knee and shoulder injuries limited him to 10 games, hurting a team that won just twice. He said experiencing setbacks as a rookie will make him stronger as a second-year pro because none of them broke him physically or mentally.
Stafford is sure he will be better this year in part because his surrounding cast has improved. Detroit drafted speedy running back Jahvid Best in the first round, signed veteran receiver Nate Burleson and acquired tight end Tony Scheffler along with guard Rob Sims in trades to fill holes on offense.
Burleson and Scheffler were impressed with Stafford from afar, playing for Seattle and Denver, respectively, and have quickly figured out they're going to love playing with him.
"He's more intelligent and confident than I thought he would be," Burleson said. "I knew he had grit after what he did in the Cleveland game and obviously his arm is crazy. But he doesn't lean on coaches as much as most young quarterbacks do because he knows the offense so well. I'm not saying he's ready to cut the umbilical cord, but he knows to be successful he'll have to take some risks and do some things you can't coach."
Scheffler said there are probably only a few guys in the league who can put a football in small window on the field like Stafford can, adding he has been more awed by how the QB carries himself.
"He's way beyond his years in terms of maturity," Scheffler said.
Ask anyone who has spent time around Stafford and most of them will say he simply "gets it," after growing up in the spotlight as a star QB growing up near Dallas and staying in it at Georgia.
"That's a compliment," he said. "A lot goes into being an NFL quarterback. You need to be responsible for your job on the field and you have to be responsible off the field because you're representing the organization every day."