MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: How Kaaya can learn from Lions' QB history

Posted Jul 10, 2017

Brad Kaaya's focus is on the present and immediate future, as it should be, but a brief review of the history of the QB position in Detroit would have some value, too.

The extra studies Brad Kaaya did in his first offseason of workouts with the Detroit Lions made it almost like taking a summer school class back at the University of Miami (Fla.).

From rookie minicamp after the draft – when the Lions took him in the sixth round – through OTAs and minicamp in late June -- Kaaya watched practice videos and read the notes that he took every day.

“I usually take notes on what I should correct, or a point of emphasis of what to correct that very day,” Kaaya told reporters during minicamp. “Hopefully, by the end of that day my list is shorter on things I have to work on to where it’s almost nothing.

“Obviously, not nothing, but to where it gets shorter and shorter. I’m always trying to look for ways to get better. I’m always trying to get coaching points and listen to some kind of critique, and just find ways to make myself a better player.”
 
Kaaya’s focus is on the present and immediate future, as it should be. The same is true for Jake Rudock, a sixth-round pick by the Lions in 2016 from Iowa and Michigan who is in competition with Kaaya to be the backup to Matthew Stafford.
 
A brief review of the history of the quarterback position in Detroit would have some value for young quarterbacks, too. It provides a clear message: Be prepared. Things can change fast.
 
An injury or a coaching decision can scramble the depth chart like jacks dropped by kids on a cobbled walkway.
 
Here are some examples in Lions history of how the status changed quickly for young backups. The focus is on youth, and does not include veterans such as Tobin Rote, who quarterbacked the Lions in the 1957 championship game after an injury to Bobby Layne, or others locked in a two-quarterback competition.

Greg Landry, 1970: Landry was a first-round draft pick in 1968. With a talented team struggling in 1970, head coach Joe Schmidt turned to Landry. Landry went 5-1 down the stretch to lead the Lions to a 10-4 record and a Wild Card playoff berth.

Landry could not sustain his fine play in a 5-0 playoff loss to Dallas, but he was a Lion for 11 seasons (1968-78) and played 14 NFL seasons overall.

Jeff Komlo, 1979: A ninth-round draft pick out of Delaware in 1979, Komlo was destined to be a third-stringer behind Gary Danielson and Joe Reed. That changed in a hurry.

Danielson went out for the season with a knee injury in the last preseason game. Reed started the season opener at Tampa Bay and aggravated an abdominal muscle injury that put him out for most of the rest of the season.

Enter Komlo, who went 2-12 in 14 starts. He started only two more games in a career that ended after the 1983 season. Komlo had personal and legal problems and died in 2009. He was 52.

Eric Hipple, 1981: A fourth-round draft pick in 1980, Hipple did not play an offensive snap as a rookie.

The emergency call went out in Game 7 of 1981. He started the last 10 games after an injury to Danielson and two ineffective starts by Komlo. Hipple threw four TD passes in his debut and kept the Lions in the playoff race until a final-game loss to Tampa Bay.

Hipple’s play was so inspiring that one Lions fan put up this sign in a game at the old Pontiac Silverdome: “Thank You Mrs. Hipple.”

Hipple had a 10-year career, all with the Lions (1980-89).

Erik Kramer, 1991 and ‘93: The ultimate rags to riches backup in fairly recent Lions history. Before coming to Detroit his only NFL action was three games with Atlanta as a replacement player in 1987. Kramer made the 1991 roster and took over as the starter midseason after Rodney Peete went out for the season with an Achilles tendon injury.

Kramer kept the Lions on course in a 12-4 season and threw three TD passes in a playoff win over Dallas.

Emergency duty called again in 1993, when the offense fizzled under Peete. Kramer started the last four games and went 3-1 to lead the Lions to a division title with a 10-6 record. The season ended in a playoff loss to the Packers at the Silverdome.

Kramer’s performance with the Lions was the springboard to an NFL career that lasted through the 1999 season with the Lions, Bears (1994-98) and Chargers (1999).

Charlie Batch, 1998: A second-round draft pick out of Eastern Michigan, Batch’s internship lasted two games. Head coach Bobby Ross benched starter Scott Mitchell after Game 2 and made Batch the starter.

Batch was an effective leader with a strong arm, but he was injury prone. He had a 19-18 won-loss record as a starter in his first three seasons with the Lions.

Batch was released after the 2001 season and signed in 2002 with the Steelers, returning to his hometown of Pittsburgh where he spent 11 seasons as a valuable backup and was part of two Super Bowl champions. All in all, it was a rewarding 15-year career that began with a coaching rush to judgment in Detroit.

Drew Stanton, 2010: Veteran Shaun Hill and Stanton divided the starting job almost equally after Matthew Stafford sustained a shoulder injury on opening day of 2010 that limited him to three games.

Hill, with starting experience in San Francisco, was acquired in an offseason trade with the 49ers. Stanton was a second-round draft pick in 2007 and had thrown only 78 passes going into the 2010 season.

The Lions closed the 2010 season with a four-game winning streak. Hill and Stanton each won two games as a starter.

Stanton, now with the Cardinals, is going into his 11th season.