O'HARA: Very visible changes in Stafford's new offense

Posted Jul 18, 2014

When the wraps come off and the Lions roll out their offense for public viewing, not only the football intelligentsia will be able to notice that something is different.

When the wraps come off and the Lions roll out their offense for public viewing, not only the football intelligentsia will be able to notice that something is different.

Changes involve more than the annual shuffle of players who have come and gone since the end of last season.

“I think it’s going to be visible – just the way we line up, the way we move,” Matthew Stafford said.

“I think there will be a tangible difference for the common fan, even.”

I get it. Even the common sportswriter can recognize the changes.

While some changes are obvious, including in personnel, critical areas of the offense that has been constructed by head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi are different from what was run under the previous coaching regime. Those won’t be as visible to the untrained eye.

But overall, the changeover from last year has an intended result to make the 2014 model of the Lions’ offense run more efficiently.

Quick take on the offense: Stafford will operate in a different way than in previous seasons, with personnel that not only includes playmakers Golden Tate and Eric Ebron but also the addition of a fullback as a full-time asset as opposed to a novelty piece, and with formations and motion that could help get more favorable matchups.

Definitive judgments cannot be made before any team has played a regular-season game, let alone the start of training camp, but here is how some changes are likely to make an impact on Stafford and the offense as a whole:

The fullback: Get used to seeing No. 45 – Jed Collins, signed as a free agent in March after three seasons in New Orleans with Lombardi. Based on how the Saints used Collins, he’ll block for Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and whoever else might run the ball and protect Stafford.

Jed CollinsFB Jed Collins (Photo: Detroit Lions)

The fullback will touch the football occasionally, but his role is to help the playmakers perform, not make plays himself.

“The fullback’s role in our offense is pretty traditional,” Stafford said. “Maybe not the Daryl Johnston fullback, but today’s fullback, for sure.”

Johnston played fullback on the Dallas Cowboys’ teams that won three Super Bowls from 1992-95. Johnston’s role was more receiver/runner than lead blocker and pass protector.

In three seasons in New Orleans, Collins had 39 catches and 19 runs from scrimmage. He did not have a carry from scrimmage in 2012. The bottom line: 58 touches in 47 regular-season games.

However, Collins got extensive playing time as a blocker. For example, in the last four regular-season games of 2013, Collins played 112 of 295 of the Saints’ offensive plays. He also played on most of the special-teams units.

The Lions have not used a traditional fullback in recent seasons. Montell Owens would have filled that role to some degree last year, but he was injured in the exhibition season and played sparingly in one regular-season game. Tight ends also have been used as blockers, but more in the H-back role.

Quarterback flexibility: Caldwell has said Stafford will have the option to call audibles, but there are elements of the offense that are more structured than what Stafford ran for five seasons under previous offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

“There are certain nuances in this offense that are very rigid – ‘This is how it’s to be done, no matter the look,’” Stafford said.

Stafford explained it this way: “It’s a pure progression play (in the Caldwell-Lombardi offense). There weren’t a whole lot of progressions in the previous offense. It was, ‘If we get this defense, we’re thinking here to here.’ It was on me to see it and react to it. It was very fluid.

“This one, in certain ways it’s more structured. That calls for more discipline in everything for me.”

Formations: “One of the things that makes this offense unique is the personnel groupings we get into, and the way we move people around,” Stafford said.

“We can be in a two tight ends, running back, fullback, one receiver set one play. Then the next play we’ll be in five wide receivers. You can do so many things. It’s a very multiple offense.”

Golden Tate: It isn’t only Tate’s sure-handedness that has impressed his teammates but also his competitive nature and how much he enjoys practicing.

“He’s one of the top five or six guys in the league with the ball in his hands – run after the catch and go,” Stafford said. “He’s tough. He loves football.

“I remember one of the first practices we had out here in the OTAs, he came up to me and said, ‘Man, I had so much fun. I just love playing football. ‘

“He’s a super competitive guy. It’s what’s gotten him to this point.”