O'HARA: Stafford leading offense through scheme change

Matthew Stafford has adjusted to change throughout his 10 seasons as the Detroit Lions’ starting quarterback, and the 2019 offseason has been no exception.

From the leadership of the offense under new coordinator Darrell Bevel to the players he’ll be leading on the field, the changes made from last season are the most sweeping of Stafford’s career.

Bevell’s version of the west coast offense that has been installed in the offseason program is different than anything Stafford ran previously.

Bevell’s offense puts more emphasis on the running game – something that’s been shockingly deficient for most of Stafford’s career – with an emphasis on controlling the ball and taking shots downfield in the passing game.

There’s a new cast of tight ends, additions at wide receiver with veterans such as Danny Amendola and Jermaine Kearse and even a key change at center with the move of 2018 first-round draft pick Frank Ragnow from left guard to center.

That’s a lot of changes to implement in the official offseason program that lasts less than months. Lions players reported on April 15 for two weeks of workouts on their own, and they’ll depart after Thursday’s final OTA practice.

A lot falls on a quarterback’s shoulders to accelerate the learning process, and it extends beyond his work with the offense.

“The biggest thing for me right now is to make sure I can lead our offense in a new offense,” Stafford said in minicamp. “That’s the biggest challenge for me at the moment.

“Obviously, I’m trying to lead this entire team. At the same time, I have a lot of work on my plate to make sure I can get everybody in the right spots and make sure we’re performing at a high level on offense.

“That’s my main focus. It has been since the whole thing started.”

Stafford’s comment about leading “the entire team” was not a throwaway line. It’s a responsibility that he embraces, with little fanfare to call attention to himself.

Quarterbacks set the tempo for an entire team in practice. If the offense is sharp and moving crisply, the defense usually responds to keep pace. If it’s sloppy, with broken assignments and repeated plays because of mental errors, it’s just the opposite.

At the annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field last month, Stafford talked about learning the new terminology in Bevell’s offense as a key building block.

“It’s kind of like learning a new language,” he said. “It really is. It’s different. This is my fourth different coordinator, and fourth language to learn.

“Every player learns it differently. It takes reps and time together to go out and do it.”

Stafford has gotten reps with Ragnow at center in what has been one of the most surprising position changes of the year. Graham Glasgow played every snap except one at center last year and started games there previously as an injury replacement.

Ragnow also missed only one snap at left guard.

“Obviously, I got a ton of time with Graham,” Stafford said. “I’m trying to get some time with Frank – and just kind of learn everybody. To be able to move guys around and have some flexibility here and there is going to be great for us in the long run.

“We’re always trying to develop players at different positions. It's been good. Obviously, it’s a learning process for the center and the quarterback, especially in the new offense.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re in the right place.”

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