O'Hara: This will be a different offseason for QB Matthew Stafford

Posted Apr 16, 2012

Everything about this offseason has been different for the Lions and Stafford - especially Stafford. It starts with his physical condition, and his preparation leading up to reporting to Allen Park on Monday.

The forecast for this week in Pensacola, Fla., is for mostly sunny skies, an occasional threat of a thunderstorm and temperatures close to 80 degrees.

All things considered, it wouldn't be a bad time to spend a week - or two or three - in the Florida panhandle on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

But everything considered, Matthew Stafford would rather be at the Lions' training headquarters in Allen Park. He reported there early Monday morning for the first day of the Lions' official offseason workout program.

This is the preliminary phase of the workout program - mostly conditioning drills - but there is a different feel around the Lions from years past, and no player feels it more than Stafford.

A year ago at this time, Stafford was still in the rehabilitation stage from the January surgery he had on his right shoulder. He had spent much of last spring in Pensacola at the rehab clinic of Dr. James Andrews, the renowned sports medicine specialist who did the surgery.

The 2011 offseason was a period of uncertainty - for Stafford and the entire National Football League.

There was uncertainty whether the 2011 season would start on time. The players had been locked out by the owners during contract negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, and they did not report until late July, when the two sides reached an agreement.

With players barred from working out at team headquarters, Stafford was one of the leaders of the Lions' player-organized workouts.

To those who watched him throw - and I was part of the gaggle of media who attended some sessions at Detroit Country Day - it was clear last spring that Stafford had the arm strength that made him an elite talent.

The only question was whether he would hold up for a whole season, and he answered it - in bold type, with an exclamation point.

He compiled one of the best statistical seasons by a quarterback in NFL history, throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. He led the Lions to a 10-6 record and their first playoff appearance since 1999.

The Lions lost to the Saints in the Wild Card round, but the 2011 season was a good launching point for the team and for Stafford.

When he met with the media Monday morning, there was the obligatory question about his health, but even then it was framed in a different way than after his first two injury-shortened seasons.

Is he glad he doesn't have to answer questions about his health?

"It's great - except for you just asking me," Stafford said.

It was a joke, and Stafford laughed.

"Naw, it's great," he said. "I'm just happy to be feeling great and hit the ground running."

Everything about this offseason has been different for the Lions and Stafford - especially Stafford. It starts with his physical condition, and his preparation leading up to reporting to Allen Park on Monday.

"I was down in Fort Lauderdale training for about six weeks," he said.

"I feel like I'm in good shape," he said. "It's obviously nice not having to put myself back together. I'm trying to maintain and get stronger and all that stuff."

On a personal level, Stafford could enjoy the offseason in a way that wasn't possible the last two years. By staying healthy and producing the eye-popping stats of last season, Stafford crossed the threshold from talented prospect to legitimate Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback.

At the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, he was given an award as the Comeback Player of the Year - a nice award, something I'm sure he never wants to win again.

ESPN invited him to do a promotional video at the network's headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Stafford launched passes from the roof of a building to ESPN employees down on the field.

"It was fun," he said. "It was a good time, to spend a day out there in Bristol, having me do the dog and pony show going all around, talking to everybody.

"It was a blast."

But best of all was reconvening with his teammates Monday and the feeling they share from coming off a playoff season, and having expectations to improve and advance in the playoffs.

There are no guarantees in sports, especially in the NFL when fortunes can change dramatically on an injury, a missed call by an official or the simple unpredictability of sports.

Last season's accomplishments represent a starting point, not the finish line, and there's a feeling around this team that there are bigger steps to take.

"Anytime you get a taste of the playoffs, you realize how close you are," Stafford said. "Every team, at this day of the year, is talking about the same thing. And that's getting to be that team.

"We have steps we have to take to be there. It's the fun part - doing everything you can to prepare yourself to get there. The nice thing for us is we're building. We're not starting from scratch.

"We've built momentum over the last couple of years. We've just got to keep running with it, keep doing the right things and understand what got us here.

"That's putting our nose to the ground and working hard. I don't see too much of a change in that."

Metro Detroit's weather forecast for the rest of this week: temperatures in the low to mid 60s, possible rain and thunderstorms late in the week.

Everything considered, it's a good setting for a healthy, young quarterback.