MOBILE, Ala. — The Lions may have suffered through another disappointing season at 2-14, but they might just have found the franchise quarterback they have been seeking for decades.
Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, did not post impressive statistics, but what he did do was provide the downtrodden club with some hope.
Whether it was his gutsy performance to come back on the field in Week 11 for one more play with a bum shoulder and beat the Browns, or his steady performance in a Week 3 win over the Redskins that ended Detroit’s epic 19-game losing skid, Stafford demonstrated toughness and leadership qualities.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was effusive in his praise of Stafford here at the Senior Bowl.
“He’s doing great, he’s a great kid. He’s what you look for, man. He’s a warrior and he’s got talent. He’s the leader of our team,” said Linehan.
“He lights up the room, and that’s what you got to have.”
One area in which Stafford can improve, however, is his health. He missed six games and played most of the year hurt. A knee injury proved especially problematic.
Linehan said Stafford had successful surgery on the knee, but that keeping him healthy next season is paramount.
Another player Detroit needs to get back healthy is RB Kevin Smith, who finished the season on injured reserve due to a knee injury of his own.
Smith is progressing well from surgery and expected to be back for the start of next season, according to Linehan.
“I’m sure he will (return). He’s a young guy, he’ll keep working. He’s got a couple injuries he played through (last year), so he’s tough,” said Linehan.
“We’re planning on him being back.”
If Detroit can get Stafford and Smith back healthy next season, and keep star receiver Calvin Johnson healthy (he missed nearly three full games), the Lions may just be on the brink of turning their fortunes around.
– Jason Feller