The Lions' fourth-year star quarterback battled shoulder injuries in his first two seasons in the NFL. Some were ready to give up on the former Georgia Bulldogs star, calling him a "china doll" and doubting his ability to bounce back.
Well, so much for that. Stafford was arguably the best quarterback in the league last season, claiming spots in the top five in several statistical categories. He became just the fourth signal-caller to reach 5,000 yards passing (threw for 5,038 to accompany 41 touchdowns, both career highs).
Will he surpass those numbers this season? Will Stafford guide the Lions to a playoff run? Most signs point to yes, at least for one of his teammates. Lions veteran center Dominic Raiola has been impressed with Stafford's progress through the early-goings of camp .
"I got to come in, I think it was last Friday, saw him work out," Raiola told WXYZ-TV. "It was like he did a combine workout and it was unbelievable. I said, 'Do you feel good?' He said, 'Yeah, I feel good.' I've never seen him move like this, not just throwing, we all know he has an unbelievable arm. Think about it, he's been hurt. The first couple years he's been dinged up here and there, but coming back this year, he's moving better than I've ever seen him move."
Stafford has never been considered a mobile quarterback. With an arm like his, why should he be? He can stretch defenses -- or freeze them -- with one quick flick of the wrist. But the fact that he's moving better should give Lions fans a bit of comfort. The loyal Honolulu and Blue followers don't want to see repeats of Stafford being driven into the turf, only to come up with a shoulder hanging out of its socket.
It's not a pretty site.
Stafford's immediate leap into the NFL's elite in 2011 proved that he was indeed the star Detroit thought he was. The way he's hopped hurdles to be mentioned with the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady -- in terms of production -- has been impressive. Just one real season in the league, and Stafford is indeed a top five or six quarterback.
Imagine what he'll do this year. He's coming off an incredible year in which he defied odds. Not many bounce back from multiple injuries the way Stafford did.
Stafford will be dangerous in 2012. He will continue to become the face of a franchise that desperately needs a hero. His performance last season wasn't a fluke -- it was a preview.
Adam Biggers has followed the National Football League for over 20 years, specifically the Detroit Lions. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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