MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Stafford keeps his hat and his focus forward

Posted Apr 11, 2014

Matthew Stafford's world as quarterback has undergone a seismic shift since the end of last season, with an overhaul in the coaching staff and other changes that go with it.

Matthew Stafford looked good and sounded good in his first mass meeting with the media since the overhaul of the Lions' coaching staff.

You wouldn't expect anything different in the first week of the offseason conditioning program, but it's been a different offseason for Stafford than any in his first five seasons.

Stafford's world as quarterback has undergone a seismic shift since the end of last season, with an overhaul in the coaching staff and other changes that go with it.

There's a new head coach – Jim Caldwell in, Jim Schwartz out.

And a new offensive coordinator – Joe Lombardi in, Scott Linehan out.

And a new offensive system to learn – probably some combination of what Lombardi brings from his seven seasons as an assistant in New Orleans and what Caldwell ran in stops at Indianapolis and Baltimore.

Even Shaun Hill, Stafford's primary backup the last four years and a valuable sounding board for a young quarterback, is gone. Hill signed with the Rams. Dan Orlovsky has taken his place as the backup.

It can be a lot to absorb, and a major adjustment for any quarterback, especially for Stafford, who was in the same system, with the same head coach and coordinator for his first five seasons.

Maybe because so much is so new, Stafford wore his cap with the bill facing forward when he met the media Thursday.

Or maybe he was caving to criticism launched against him by Phil Simms and Mike Ditka for wearing his cap backwards on the sideline.

We'll get to that most critical of all issues in the performance of quarterbacks, but after dealing with the mundane issues of learning new systems and getting ready for a season.

"It's different," Stafford said Thursday morning, facing questions straight on – just like his cap.

"Obviously, there are new faces around – people you're not as familiar with as you once were with other people. But it's exciting, too.

"Everybody on our team has a clean slate. You have to go out and prove yourself to these coaches and get them to trust you as a player on the field, and as a person off the field, too. I think more than anything, just getting back to the field is a lot of fun."

Ultimately, more weight falls on the quarterback than on any other player. It's the nature of the position, and Stafford understands it.

"You lose games, you're going to get a lot of blame," he said. "Sometimes it's right on. Sometimes it's not. You've got to learn to take it with a grain of salt and just try to improve, but this is a team game.

"We understand that as a team, as a coaching staff and as a locker room, and we all continually just need to try to get better and get as good as we can possibly be."

That includes the quarterback.

"There's always room for improvement," he said.

It's my opinion that Stafford has elite talent and the makeup to lead a team to a championship. I say that with the full realization that he had a costly slump at the end of last season. Whether that happens in Detroit remains to be seen.

But it's good to know that at least for the short term, Stafford has his mind right, his body healthy – and the bill of his baseball cap facing forward.

If you value the critique of former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, and to a lesser jab from NFL icon Mike Ditka, how a quarterback wears his cap is a vital part of leadership.

Simms ripped into Stafford in a TV commentary last January while the Lions were doing their coaching search.

"I don't like to do this old-school stuff, but my starting quarterback, when he comes to the sideline, I don't want his hat going on backwards," Simms said. "What are you doing? It's unbelievable – drives me crazy."

Ditka was less harsh in his cap critique in an interview with the Detroit Free Press.

"I think he can make all the throws," Ditka said. "He's a smart kid. I wish he'd put the baseball cap on frontwards, instead of backwards all the time."

What kind of winning quarterback would have his cap on backwards?

How about three of the most celebrated winners of the 21st Century's quarterback class?

The photos below show Tom Brady, a three-time Super Bowl champ celebrating the Patriots'  win over the Rams in Super Bowl XLVI, Aaron Rodgers speaking to the media the Monday before leading the Packers to a victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, and Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time winner with the Steelers.

QBs(Photos: AP Images)

They have six championship rings between them.

No telling how many they'd have won with their caps on straight.