INDIANAPOLIS -- Detroit Lions
coach Jim Caldwell is not going to get caught up in the debate about whether Matthew Stafford
is an elite quarterback. He believes Stafford has the makings of something more important.
"Now, a lot of people want to talk about so many other things that really aren't that important, whether or not he's elite," Caldwell said from the NFL Scouting Combine. "That doesn't matter. We want a championship quarterback. It's what we're looking for and I think we have the makings of that."
Caldwell has spent a lot of time poring over Stafford's body of work from the last three seasons.
"Here's my assessment of him," he said. "He's hungry to improve. I've noticed that about him. He's eager. He's a willing worker, he's smart and he has tools. When you find that combination, typically, you're going to find a guy that does everything it takes to get him in position where he's a championship quarterback."
Caldwell said he was encouraged by the offensive coaching staff he has put together around Stafford. He reiterated that offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will call the plays as well as work closely with Stafford. But it will be quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter who will work most closely with Stafford.
"Jim Bob and I go back a little ways; he was with us at Indianapolis," Caldwell said. "He went from an offensive assistant for us and working with the quarterbacks and really developed a real good feel for the system, how it works, the fundamentals of the game -- very bright guy.
"I felt I needed a guy that had a real good sense of fundamentals, a real good sense of how to put it all together."
Cooter played quarterback collegiately at Tennessee and worked with Peyton Manning
at the Indianapolis Colts
and Denver Broncos
"He gained a lot of experience working with Peyton at Indianapolis and then after we were fired there, he went on to Kansas City," Caldwell said. "As soon as they had the opportunity, he and Peyton reunited again in Denver. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact, obviously, that (Manning) had great respect for him, but also the work that they had done."
Caldwell took up a slogan that former coach Jim Schwartz often used -- like all quarterbacks, Stafford ultimately will be judged on wins and losses, not personal statistics.
"The most important thing is winning," Caldwell said. "The most important thing is putting points on the board and winning games and I think that's going to be our focus more so than some landmark that we set in terms of production from an offensive standpoint."
He said the pieces were in place to field a productive offense and it was the job of the coaches to mold those pieces into a cohesive, efficient unit.
"For us to just talk about, 'Hey, we're going to throw for 10 million yards, etc., etc.,' -- the most important thing I want to focus in on is what's it going to take for us to win," he said. "Minimize mistakes, don't turn the ball over, be able to run the ball, particularly in our division where we have to go outside and play in some inclement weather. You can't always just wing it up and down the field.
"But we've got a great core to work with. I mean that's key, right? We've got a great core to work with."
He acknowledged that a part of that core was lost when the team released wide receiver Nate Burleson, as well as safety Louis Delmas, for salary concerns.
"Obviously, those are two good men," he said. "When you look at those two guys just in terms of leadership and those kinds of things ... and just talking to the guys that are on the team you understand and realize the great contributions that they've made for the team overall.
"But we have to take a look at everything. We have to evaluate everything just in terms of our personnel office, our coaching, and see where things fit. We have to make some adjustments along the way. Not all of them are going to be pretty, so, obviously, that's kind of where we are today."
The loss of Burleson, coupled with Ryan Broyles' injury concerns, heightens the need for the Lions to find receivers both in the draft and in free agency.
"It's something, obviously, that we have to take a real strong look at," Caldwell said. "Because of the fact that Calvin Johnson
is going to draw a little extra attention in terms of double coverage, we have to find a way to make certain whoever's on the other side can do some damage. I think that's extremely important.
"That's something we're taking a good, hard look at. One way or another we're going to come up with a guy that will give us some balance in that area."
The Lions also face the prospect of losing tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who will be an unrestricted free agent March 11.
"He's a talented guy," Caldwell said. "He's big, talented, can block at the line of scrimmage and he can also catch and run."
Caldwell got vague, though, when asked if wanted Pettigrew re-signed.
"You have to look at every option," he said. "We have to have contingencies for every single thing. So we look at it from both sides and see how it works out. My preference is to put ourselves in the best position to win."
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