Yes, we’re talking about practice – but in a clearly defined way.
To hear Caldwell spell out the fundamentals he’ll stress with the Lions, there’s a right way for a quarterback to do the job and nothing else.
On every play, every throw, fundamentals must be executed properly. That’s even true in warmups. With Caldwell, there is no such thing as just flinging the ball around to get loose.
Caldwell spoke Tuesday morning at the NFL Annual Meeting about coaching experiences early in his career.
“Often times in my younger years I’m coaching a guy,” Caldwell said. “He’s throwing the ball. I say, ‘What are you doing?” He says, ‘Just warming up.’”
“You can never waste a throw,” Caldwell said.
“What are you aiming at?”
“Nothing. I’m just getting loose.”
“No. Every single time you throw, you throw at a target. I’m trying to hit your right ear. I’m trying to hit you in the left shoulder. Every single time, even when you’re warming up, you work on your accuracy. Just constantly.
“And you look at small targets. That’s what gets you accustomed to being able to pinpoint your accuracy.
“This is pro football. When you want to put it on the left hip, you ought to be able to put it on the left hip because the defender is on the right.”
Caldwell’s comments encompass his approach to coaching quarterbacks in general, but with the Lions, the reality is that they all pertain to Matthew Stafford.
Stafford has a wealth of ability and has piled up huge passing numbers the last three years, when he has remained healthy and started every game. In those three seasons, Stafford has thrown for 14,655 yards and 90 touchdowns against 52 interceptions.
However, critics have questioned his mechanics, and he suffered through a slump in the last six games last year, with 11 interceptions against only eight TD passes and a decline in accuracy.
The Lions lost six of the last seven games to miss the playoffs after a 6-3 start, and Stafford took the brunt of the criticism – despite the defense giving up fourth-quarter leads in all six losses and some coaching decisions that ranged from questionable to bizarre.
There is a widely held perception that the Lions hired a head coach and offensive staff with a primary mission to straighten out Stafford.
Bill Ford, vice-chairman of the Lions, says that is not the case.
“I’ve read in the past, whether it’s Joe Lombardi (the offensive coordinator) or Jim Caldwell, this is all about Matthew,” Ford said. “Clearly, we are going to support Matthew, but this staff stands on its own, independent of the quarterback.”
Caldwell has no doubt about Stafford’s ability, or how he’ll adapt to a new offense and practice regimen.
“I really see a guy who’s capable of championship play,” Caldwell said. “Everybody wants to try to label a quarterback and say he’s an elite quarterback or he’s this or that. What you’re looking for, you want a championship quarterback.
“Do I think he’s capable of that? Without question. He has a great desire to excel. And he has talent. Often times you find guys who have great desire to excel and they don’t have enough talent to get it done. This guy has talent.”
As of today, the Lions’ quarterback roster consists of Stafford and
Under NFL rules, Lions players cannot report for the offseason conditioning program until April 7.
When players get on the field, they’ll get a heavy dose of fundamentals. That’s particularly crucial for quarterbacks because of their impact on the game.
“The fundamentals of the game are the most important things in terms of playing that position,” Caldwell said.
“The fundamentals start from scratch. I’m talking about from being able to make certain you can execute the proper drop with the proper timing, the proper balance. Your finish position is the same.
“All those basic mechanics you utilize are extremely important. Feet and eyes always work together.”
There are points of emphasis within the fundamentals.
“One of the real strong things, the real important things we are going to drill him in these areas is timing and accuracy. That’s the key to the passing game – to be able to throw the ball on time, to be able to deliver the ball before the receiver turns his head to look for it, while the defender is still in a retreating position.
“Then the accuracy involved with that, to be able to place the ball in position where the receiver can catch the ball without necessarily breaking stride – giving him what I call a runner’s ball.
“Those things, just in terms of the passing game, are key. But obviously, the passing game takes much, much more than that.”