MIKE O'HARA

Matthew Stafford was a key part of recruiting efforts this offseason

Posted Apr 16, 2013

Matthew Stafford's growth, importance and commitment to the franchise is shown through his willingness to help recruit free agent targets like Reggie Bush

Matthew Stafford's successful recruiting pitch helped the Lions sign Reggie Bush when he hit the free agent market a month ago.
Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford

The next pitch for Stafford is to get the ball in Bush's hands and make defenses pay if they try to overload to stop Calvin Johnson.

It is a sign of Stafford's growth and importance to the franchise -- and his commitment -- after four seasons as the starting quarterback that he spent more time than ever in Detroit in the offseason. He worked out at the team's headquarters to get ready for the 2013 season, and he talked to free agents who were interested in signing with the Lions.

Bush was the main target for the offense, and he signed with the Lions on the second day of free agency. The Lions expect Bush to fill the void of a playmaking running back that was created when Jahvid Best went out with a concussion in the sixth game of the 2011 season.

Stafford likes everything he's seen of Bush on tape from his four seasons in New Orleans and the last two in Miami, and he likes even more what he has seen off the field in the brief time he's spent with Bush.

"I'm excited to have him," Stafford said Tuesday as he spoke to the media on the second day of the NFL's official offseason workout program. "I think he's a weapon that could be really good for us. I'm obviously, excited about the tape I watched on him ... seeing what he can do with the ball in his hands.

"At the same time, I'm excited about what he brings off the field in a leadership capcacity – a guy that's a veteran, that's done it. He understands what it takes to win. He's been on both sides of it. He's won a lot of games in seasons and lost some games in seasons.

"He knows what it takes, which is exciting and brings another veteran presence on the offensive side."

The Lions had a successful offseason in terms of the free agents they signed. On defense, they added safety Glover Quin and defensive end Jason Jones.

Stafford was a willing member of the recruiting effort, which was one of the reasons he spent most of the offseason in Detroit.

"I just wanted to be here, make sure I was doing everything possible to get ready for the year," he said. "It's about winning. I knew there was going to be opportunity to be face-to-face with free agents and talk with some guys.

"I wanted to have that opportunity to see if that could help guys get comfortable with our situation here. I hope it did."

The offense is by no means a finished product, even with Bush's presence. Receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, who are complements to Calvin Johnson, are returning from season-ending knee injuries.

The offensive line, once the team's most static unit, is being rebuild with left guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola the only returning starters.

No matter what Bush brings to the offense, those are key areas that have to be developed before the start of the regular season.

But Bush can make an impact in a backfield that used Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell as the primary backs last season.  Both are returning and will have roles in the offseason.

The Lions aren't looking at Bush as a high-volume back to carry the load with 300 or more carries for the season. His value will be impact – the big-play potential either as a runner or a receiver. He has done both at different stages.

He had 88 and 73 receptions respectively in his first two seasons in New Orleans. The last two seasons in Miami, he rushed for 1,086 and 986 yards, with a high of 227 carries in 2012.

Bush's quickness and versatility will allow offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to use him in the backfield or split wide as a receiver. That should take some of the attention away from Johnson, who was routinely doubled – and still managed to catch 122 passes for a league-record 1,964 yards last season.

It was routine for teams to play a two-deep defense to try to hold Johnson in check. Out of 1,160 plays last season, the Lions saw a six-man box or less 855 times last season. And they still managed only four runs of 20 yards or longer.

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush

"You hope Reggie can be a two-man buster --a coverage we see quite a bit just because of Calvin," Stafford said. "The guy can do everything. He can run the ball. He's shown that in Miami. He can run between the tackles. And then he been able to split out and play wide receiver in New Orleans.

"You want him to sit there and have defensive coordinators scratching their heads and wondering where he's going to be, where he's going to line up, who do we put on him?

"That's what you want as much as you possibly can. And when you do get those matchups,, take advantage of them..

"He's a guy who can do that."