The Detroit Lions started their offseason workouts today, and if they came out of the tunnel all at once like they do at a game, then I expect that Matthew Stafford was leading the charge. Things have changed over at the Lions headquarters in Allen Park. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he wears number 9.
It may have been a coincidence, but after the Lions stinker of a season last year, the old guard was ushered out of the building through cuts and retirement. Defensive vocal leader Kyle Vanden Bosch was cut immediately after the season. Head coach Jim Schwartz brought him over here from Tennessee to teach the Lions players how to practice, and how to conduct themselves the correct way. While always trying 110%, Vanden Bosch’s best days were far behind him. Although the quiet, lead-by-example Jeff Backus wasn’t a vocal leader in the clubhouse, he was a calming influence that will be missed. That leaves Dominic Raiola and Nate Burleson as the only ones left from the old guard. Burleson probably isn’t going anywhere since the Lions seem to perpetually need receivers every year while it would seem this is definitely Raiola’s last year with the team. If the Lions draft a center/guard in the draft next week, then there’s a slight chance that Raiola doesn’t even make it out of camp.
All of the great quarterbacks in this game have been the leaders of their respective teams. John Elway, Dan Marino, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning–the list goes on and on. It took Stafford more time to ascend as the leader of the Lions because he missed more than half of the games his first two years in the league. That set his development back big time. Still, at only 25, he’s poised to take the next step in his career with the Lions.
The first thing Stafford did different was to stay in Detroit during the offseason. “There is not a guy that’s done more for this franchise in this off-season than Matthew Stafford,” said president Tom Lewand. “The guy’s been in the building every day. He’s been living here the entire off-season. He’s been working out, he’s helped us recruit free agents, he’s been involved on a daily basis in trying to get ready for the season, and he would do anything to help us be successful.”
You can count retired kicker Jason Hanson as a fan of Stafford’s rise to taking over the reins of the Lions. “He’s got a good leadership personality. He knows what he’s doing on the football field and he’s still young. He’s still putting it all together and putting up some amazing numbers,” Hanson told WDFN in Detroit “As he matures, as he keeps becoming more football savvy, I think really taking the football team under his wing is what’s going to start happening — not that I was a leader — but as some of the old guys leave, (Kyle) Vanden Bosch, (Jeff) Backus and that guard, this is going to become his football team.”
I can see Stafford is starting to take this Captain thing pretty seriously now, and is taking ownership of this team. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s in line for a 20 million per year contract either. He seems like he’s ready to make that leap into the top tier of quarterbacks in the league.
Whenever you see Matthew Stafford away from the field, he’s always sporting a Tiger’s baseball cap. It seems like he’s honest about his love for this city. I’ve always felt like he’s one of us, proud to be from the D. He just has more disposable income than most of us.