Five things to know about growth of Lions QB Matthew Stafford

Jim Caldwell, Golden Tate see a difference

ALLEN PARK >> Entering his ninth season, Matthew Stafford’s game is still growing.

It’s been evident in training camp and in his limited snaps into the first two preseason games (both wins) that the Lions quarterback has added to his repertoire.

“He’s really been dropping some passes in the bucket, some that either we catch or no one catches. When you can be a quarterback and make those type of plays that’s special. Every day, every year Matt’s getting better and always will,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said.

Stafford will likely play about a half in the third preseason game where the Lions will face the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at 7 p.m. on Friday at Ford Field.

Here are five new things to know about Stafford:

1. In Saturday’s game he found TJ Jones over the middle for a nice touch pass. It’s not a throw that’s been in Stafford’s regular rotation.  “I’m uncovering every stone I can to try and find a way to be better. And I think I got the fast balls down. Pretty good at those. Made a living doing those for a long time,’’ Stafford said. Any doubt, ask his receivers. “But at the same time, I felt like maybe when I looked at some tape last year, there were some plays out there that maybe I wasn’t trying to make that throw when I felt maybe, when you look at the tape, hey there’s a big play to be had there if you could just throw it over this guy and throw it around this guys, whatever it is. And so, I just studied all that kind of stuff in a while of how can I generalize this and work on something to get better. And that’s kind of some of the stuff that I’m working on.”

2. Coach Jim Caldwell has been a Stafford fan since Day One but he sees a difference too. “Yeah, I’ve always known him to be able to make every single throw that there is. I mean from the first day that I laid eyes on him watching him work. He’s not had any problems throwing screens. He’s not had any problems dropping the ball into open areas or anything of that nature,’’ Caldwell said on Monday. “But he’s trying to refine his game more so than anything else. But I’ve never seen any deficiency in any of those areas to be honest with you through the years or since we’ve been here. But like I said, he’s trying to get better and that’s the mark of a true champion, just in terms of how he goes about working, how he tries to improve upon every little detail, and he’s performing well right now.”

3. The quarterback, entering his ninth season, said the team will change a lot between now and Week 1 of the regular season. It’s like that every year. Who all is going to be on the team, who’s going to be doing what job for you. At the moment, everybody’s learning everything, trying to fill in holes where we can,’’ Stafford said on Monday. “You go into Week 1, you’re going to have a very specific game plan on how you want to attack teams and this guy’s going to be this kind of player for us, so it’s a little bit difficult to make an assessment of where our team is at the moment. Obviously, there’s things generally that we can do better. We can have less penalties, have less turnovers, those kind of things are a general rule thing, but as far as where we are offensively or defensively, it’s kind of tough to say.”

4. Golden Tate said one reason Stafford has improved is his comfort level with the offense. “One, his knowledge of this offense is higher, two and a half years we’ve been in this offense with Jim Bob (Cooter). He just gets better. … He hits the open guy, a lot of passes you don’t even have to break stride which is important and nice and that’s how you run after the catch,’’ Tate said. “It seems like guys are catching the balls a lot better so I don’t know if our grips are getting stronger, or we’re getting better at catching or if he’s getting us better balls. I’d say it’s a combination of both.’’

5. The Lions defense has been flying around (in a good way) in the first two games. Stafford goes against them every day in practice and has noticed a difference from last year. “I think they’re moving around faster, a talented defense. Some coverage specific stuff a little bit different too than what I had seen in the past just through training camp,’’ Stafford said. “Some of the same, some different, it’s tough, but there are a lot of young guys that are out there playing and doing a nice job.”

BONUS: For the first time since he came to Detroit, Stafford worked with a quarterback guru in the summer. He said we wouldn’t notice the difference, but he would both on and off the field. “Yeah I’m trying. Trying to implement some of that stuff. Sometimes it’s better than others, but yeah I feel comfortable with most of the stuff that we’re doing,’’ Stafford said.

 

Former Lions WR Anquan Boldin leaves Bills, retires from NFL

Lions have plenty of depth at wide receiver

Anquan Boldin had such a huge impact on the Lions last season, many thought the veteran wide receiver might be inclined to return to Detroit.

It didn’t happen.

Maybe Lions GM Bob Quinn knew something. Perhaps he didn’t think he could count on Boldin to stay with the team.

Boldin signed with the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 7. On Sunday (Aug. 20) he informed the Bills that he would retire after 14 NFL seasons, according to an ESPN report. In-between those dates the Bills traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams.

Oops.

Boldin had been lining up in the slot with the first team in the 13 days that he was with the Bills.

Boldin issued a statement on Sunday that read: “Football in its purest form is what we all strive for as a nation. People from all different races, religions and backgrounds working together for one shared goal. The core values taught in football are some of the most important you can learn in life. To always be there for the guy next to you and not let your fellow man down. You do whatever it takes to make sure your brother is OK.

“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work. At this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority. My life’s purpose is bigger than football.”

Boldin caught 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016, his only year with the Lions. He was signed a day before 2016 training camp, stepped in and was almost immediately up to speed on the offense. He and Matthew Stafford were on the same wave-length from the get-go.

He ranks ninth in the NFL in all-time career receptions with 1,076.

The 36-year-old’s training regimen set a good example for the wide receivers and every player in the locker room.

The Lions don’t seem to be hurting for depth at wide receiver which could be a reason they did not bring back Boldin.

Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and rookie Kenny Golladay are locks for the 53-man roster, then look for a battle between TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis and Keshawn Martin for the remaining four or five spots.

The Lions are 2-0 in the preseason after a 16-6 win over the N.Y. Jets on Saturday night. Next up they’ll face the New England Patriots at 7 p.m. on Friday at Ford Field.

Five to watch in Lions preseason game against the Jets on Saturday

Bademosi, Killebrew bring another level of toughness to the defense

Ameer Abdullah spoke out this week about racism and Charlottesville, Va. When asked if he and his teammates discuss the issues in the locker room, he was quick to say they are focused on the N.Y. Jets, the opponent in the Lions’ second preseason game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the newly renovated Ford Field.

The Lions won their preseason opener handily 24-10 over the Colts at Indianapolis on Sunday. Adjustments will be made for the Jets. Some changes are forced due to injuries, some will happen because of performance in the opener.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Johnson Bademosi stands out for his special team play. It’s all good and was the reason he was signed in 2016. In training camp Bademosi has also been strong defensively. “He is playing much better (on defense) than he’s played at any other point in time through practice,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s always been outstanding in terms of special teams, he’s rare in that regard, particularly covering punts. Between him and Don Carey, one of the things we used to say a long time ago, if you find a guy who can beat double press and force a fair catch, that it’s more than likely he’s going to be on somebody’s team. Both those guys have that kind of ability. So, that’s been part of his (skillset), but he’s becoming better in terms of his coverage skills, and I think that’s because of familiarity with the system, he’s gotten a little bit better feel and he’s got length and he’s got speed. Those are the things that you really like about him, and he’s rugged. He’ll get his hands on you and he’s pretty physical, so he’s making good strides I think.”

2. Safety Miles Killebrew, who also excels at special teams, got a good long look at Indianapolis on defense. Look for more of the same this week. Killebrew, in his second year, is one tough dude and has a better grasp of the defense.

3. Without Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland, the other defensive ends will get more reps. Jeremiah Valoaga had a good game against the Colts. Can he keep it up? Don’t forget to keep an eye on veteran Cornelius Washington (he practiced this week so may play Saturday) and also undrafted rookie Alex Barrett who has had a good training camp. Barrett was on the Lions’ radar on draft weekend but they passed as did the other 31 NFL teams. “Obviously, our scouts had seen him earlier and he had just a number of the traits that we were looking for. He’s very, very active. He’s got power, got speed, he’s got a variety of moves and he’s one of those guys that you knew was going to help you,’’ Caldwell said. “So, we tried to do as good a job as we possibly could making certain he knew we were interested, and were fortunate to get him.”

4. Greg Robinson proved that GM Bob Quinn knew what he was doing when he signed the veteran just after discovering Taylor Decker will miss the early part of the season after shoulder surgery. Robinson, who was the second overall pick by the Rams in the 2014 draft, has a little something to prove. He’s never lived up to his billing but sometimes a change of scenery can extend a career. Will be interesting to see if he can build on what he did against the Colts. He said the coaches graded him hard but he was not complaining he knows he has work to do. (If it seems like there are plenty of Robinsons on the Lions’ roster, you are correct. Along with Greg, there’s defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and tackle Corey Robinson. Together they weigh 966 pounds — that is indeed a lot of Robinson.)

5. Ameer Abdullah was so happy to get back on the field after missing the last 14 games of 2016. He wants more playing time this week. He needs to get hit a bit to get back in the flow. It’s a fine line though. A healthy Abdullah for 16 weeks could make a huge difference in the offense.