MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: There's no Rosetta Stone for NFL playbooks

Posted May 28, 2014

After five seasons under Scott Linehan's offense, the Lions are going through a learning process in a new system that is derived from offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s experience as an assistant coach in New Orleans and what head coach Jim Caldwell ran in Indianapolis and Baltimore.

Joe Lombardi likes the offensive system the Lions are installing this offseason, and he likes the players who will be running it.

But that doesn’t mean Lombardi was not bothered by Wednesday’s practice, or any like it. Mental errors and dropped balls made it clear exactly where the Lions stand in the process of changing everything from how plays are run to how they are called in the huddle.

Joe LombardiJoe Lombardi (Photo: Detroit Lions)

“Today was a little sloppy,” said Lombardi, who’s in his first season as offensive coordinator. “I’m not going to lie to you. I was getting a little angry today because I thought most of the drops and some of the alignments weren’t something you want.

“It was mostly a concentration issue more than anything. I’m pretty excited about the players we have and the way this thing is going to develop. I know that these plays work. I know that the offense we’re developing will work.

“It’s more whether guys are lining up correctly. As long as we’re getting our snaps, not fumbling, lining up correctly, running the plays correctly – I know when we get in a game-plan situation these things are going to be just fine.”

After five seasons under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, the Lions are going through a learning process in a new system that is derived from Lombardi’s experience as an assistant coach in New Orleans and what head coach Jim Caldwell ran in Indianapolis and Baltimore.

It requires something as basic as quarterback Matthew Stafford calling a play in the huddle using terminology that is different from what became like a second language from constant repetition over the past five years.

There is no Rosetta Stone for NFL playbooks or a Linehan-to-Lombardi dictionary to translate terminology from one system to another.

Stafford has gotten beyond the point of translating terminology in his mind, then calling a play.

“Early on, it was maybe comparing a little bit of what it used to be and trying to give you ‘this used to be somewhat like this, or somewhat like that,’” Stafford said. “Now it’s to the point where everything is totally separate.

“What makes it difficult is not only learning something new, but having to forget something you did for five or six years.”

Calvin Johnson is going through the same translation process as everyone else.

“You have to find a way to help yourself remember it,” Johnson said. “There are some same routes, but it’s different lingo. You’ve got to try to make a way for yourself to help you remember.”

Basic plays and drills are used at every level of football, but some vary with every staff. Caldwell, Lombardi and new quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter have brought in some new footwork drills for the quarterbacks.

“It’s not salsa dancing or anything crazy,” Stafford said. “It’s football quarterback drills.”

Lombardi has spoken glowingly of Stafford’s football IQ and work ethic, and he did again Wednesday.

“He’s remarkably bright,” Lombardi said. “I heard that he’s a smart player. The speed and ease with which he picks things up – he even surprised me, and I had high expectations coming in. He can handle as much as you give him.

“Like most quarterbacks, when his feet are right, the passes are usually right. So much of it is dependent on the timing of the routes and where my feet should be. He’s still learning a little bit of that. He grasps it pretty quickly.”

Even Lombardi is experiencing a learning process in terms of play-calling.

“The terminology is a lot different even than what I was used to in New Orleans,” Lombardi said. “There are times when I’m calling a play, and I’m like, ‘Dang it, that’s not what we call it anymore.’

“That comes with reps and time. It’s a bigger issue in May than it’s going to be in July and August, and certainly in September.”