Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been through all of this before. A new coach. A new coordinator. A new offense to learn. Same team. Same general questions. Same attempt at achieving the same results. But here the veteran quarterback goes again, starting from the beginning.
This will be Year No. 11 for Stafford and coordinator No. 4 with offense No. 5 -- depending how one views the second half of 2015, when coordinators changed at midseason. There have been three head coaches, countless combinations of receivers, running backs, tight ends and offensive linemen. The constant: Stafford in the middle, trying to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Which is where he is again. Now he has to take time to learn the offense Darrell Bevell is bringing in, a style that will have differences from what Scott Linehan, Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter had run. And all of that -- the understanding and the process of forgetting what he did before, learning what he has to do now and transitioning from what one thing meant in one scheme to what it means in another -- takes a while.
“A lot of time,” Stafford said. “Especially, I think, as the quarterback, I have to be the coach in the huddle, too. There are questions that come up when you’re installing a new offense, and we’re breaking the huddle and a guy has a question of, ‘Hey, am I lining up here?’ Or, ‘What do I have?’
“I have to be on top of it and communicate it correctly, so quite a bit of time.”
Stafford, 31, has become adept at learning how to transition -- from when he was a rookie out of Georgia learning Linehan's Air Raid offense in 2009 to when he had to pick up Lombardi’s New Orleans Saints-style scheme in 2014. Then he had to add things on the fly when Cooter took over after Lombardi’s firing midway through the 2015 season, along with a complete overhaul to a Tom Moore-based approach the following offseason, when Cooter took over for good.
He had success in Cooter's offense, felt comfortable in it. But the results didn’t show -- particularly last season, when he had his lowest yardage total since 2010 with 3,777 yards. He threw 21 touchdown passes, his worst mark since the 2011 season, and put up some of the worst yards-per-attempt and yards-per-completion numbers of his career. He also had his worst quarterback rating (89.9) and QBR (50.9) since the 2014 season, when he was learning Lombardi’s offense.
All of the experience will make some of this easier. A play actually being run? By now, he figures he has seen and gone through pretty much every option. What those plays are called and what the terms are -- that’s where it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment. Again. For the fourth time.
“Verbiage-wise, it’s a little bit different than most of the stuff I’ve done,” Stafford said. “In that regard I’ve got to try and forget everything because something that may be in another offense that we called a certain word means something completely different in this offense.
“So try to forget the old language and learn a new one.”
This isn’t going to be Mandarin to Spanish, though. Most football languages have similar enough origins that the basis is there. Think trying to learn Italian after knowing French: There are some basic principles that translate.
Stafford knows all of this will take a while. He’s still in OTAs. He has had a well-known family crisis that has rightfully divided some of his time. And he still has a few months to get ready until it really starts to matter in September.
“There’s obviously a ton more to learn,” Stafford said. “The base of the kind of stuff is in there, but you have to be able to play fast, think fast, signal, checks -- all of that kind of stuff is kind of the second level to it.
“But I think our guys are doing a great job of diving in, Bev is doing a great job of teaching, and our assistant coaches are doing a great job, so it’s on everybody to dive in and make sure they are ready to go.”