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O'HARA: Stafford has a good handle on where Lions stand

Matthew Stafford has a good feeling for where the Detroit Lions stand as they close out minicamp – and what their realistic goals should be for the 2017 season.

As he prepares for his ninth season as the Lions' quarterback and unquestioned leader, Stafford's view extends beyond his own position to the makeup of a roster put together by general manager Bob Quinn and the direction of the franchise under owner Martha Firestone Ford.

He also wears blinders when it comes to questions about such subjects as contract negotiations, which has been a hot subject this offseason. He is going into the last year on his current deal, but it's not something he focuses on.

"I'm just worried about trying to get better out here," Stafford said Wednesday after the second day of minicamp practice. "That's pretty much all I can say. This time of year to me is football time. I'm out here playing football, trying to get better – help the team win."

With his focus strictly on the playing field, Stafford thinks the Lions should be considered contenders for the NFC North title. They've made the playoffs three times in the last six seasons – in 2011, 2014 and 2016 – but as a wild card behind the division champion Packers all three years.

Another playoff push should be the goal this year.

"I definitely think so," Stafford said. "I think that's been our goal and our mentality every year.

"The Fords are doing a heck of a job of putting resources into it to give us that opportunity. They're doing everything they can to help us out as a team, which is incredible.

"I think Bob is doing a great job of assembling talented teams. This is the second one he's gotten a chance to kind of oversee. He's doing a heck of a job."

The roster took a significant hit recently on the offensive line with a shoulder injury sustained in practice two weeks ago by second-year left tackle Taylor Decker. Decker underwent surgery on June 5.

Head coach Jim Caldwell has given no timetable on when Decker will return, but Stafford offered an optimistic prognosis.

"Obviously, he's a very talented player," Stafford said. "He had a great year last year for a young kid and was going to build on it throughout this offseason. He's not going to get that chance to work as much throughout the offseason, rehabbing it.

"But the guy's not dead. He's going to be back. He's going to be OK at some point. I look for him to be our left tackle for a long time."

View photos from the second day of Detroit Lions 2017 minicamp.

Stafford is going into his third full season with Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator. Their relationship and continuity has allowed the offense to evolve to where Stafford feels like he can become more aggressive and maximize the varied skills of his receivers, running backs and tight ends.

Stafford's efficiency has grown since Cooter took over midway through the 2014 season.

Stafford threw 32 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions in 2015. He was a contender for the MVP award last year until a broken finger on his right (passing) hand hampered his throwing in the last three games. Stafford finished with 24 TD passes and 10 picks, and a completion rate of 65.3 percent, second highest of his career.

The line of communication runs both ways between Stafford and Cooter.

"We have great communication, not only in the meeting room but out here on the field," Stafford said. "This is a creative offense. He allows me a lot of freedom at the line of scrimmage to get in and out of the plays that I think may or may not work.

"They're not going to work every time. We're going to have physical errors and things of that nature. Just trying to get us in good aggressive plays against the defense that we're seeing is my job, and I do it the best I can."

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