It’s not easy being a rookie in the NFL, but David Blough faced more challenging circumstances than most. But after last season’s trial by fire, and some of the scarring burns that came with it, the Detroit Lions quarterback is in a much better place entering his second season.
After a successful college career at Purdue, Blough signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. But after an impressive showing against the Lions in the preseason, the opponent swung a trade to add a developmental option behind Matthew Stafford days ahead of the regular season.
As if it’s not difficult enough to learn one playbook as a first-year player, Blough was tasked with learning a second in a hurry. But as the third-string option, behind one of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history, time didn’t figure to be a concern.
Then Stafford suffered a season-ending back injury, followed by backup Jeff Driskel getting knocked out by a hamstring strain. Suddenly Blough was required to go from wallflower to starter.
Oh, and for good measure, that first start came on Thanksgiving, in front of a national audience.
For a moment, Blough looked like a prodigy. He threw touchdown passes on his first two series, including a 75-yard bomb to Kenny Golladay. But reality quickly set in and the Lions scored six points the rest of the way. They lost that game and the next four to close the year.
Blough finished 0-5 as a starter, completing 54% of his passes with more interceptions (four) than touchdowns (six). And given what he had to work with, no one should really be surprised.
“(It) was not perfect by any means, and I know everybody can see that, but I am proud looking back on it — with the challenges that were faced,” Blough said. “You could go into every game thinking, ‘Man, I prepared as hard as I could. I gave everything I could to this week to put us in a position to have success’ when we took that field. Those experiences that I had with the challenges, I think, will pay dividends in the long run of my career and whatever opportunities come forth for me. “
The team’s struggles without Stafford led to the free-agent signing of veteran Chase Daniel to assume backup duties, once again relegating Blough to a third-string role. Yet as training camp got rolling this August, his improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I think David’s done a really good job or handling the entire workload of everything that’s in from an install standpoint,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “When you get in the season, it’s very specific and very narrow the focus, which he did a great job of that last year. I would (also) say mixing in all the little nuances and some checks and adjustments and protections and cadence and those things, you can really see his growth and development there with certain looks the defense might give them that maybe offensively we didn’t cover, or things like that, that come up as surprises that he just seems to really be able to handle in a very calm and cool manner out on the field.”
Even though it seems like a foregone conclusion Daniel will serve as Stafford’s backup, based on the contract alone, the Lions have given Blough plenty of opportunities with the second-team offense this offseason, and in many ways, he’s performed better than his veteran counterpart.
“Being familiar with the system has definitely helped me big-time to be able to come in and just keep working on things and improve from last season,” Blough said. “Back (when I) watch some tape, coaches watched the tape with me, just saw a lot of things I can improve on. We put some goals in place for this spring … for things that I could work on from home and come back and put into practice here in camp. I think it’s gone well.”
So as the Lions must decide how to construct their 53-man roster this weekend, Blough is making a compelling choice to keep a third quarterback, based on his improvements and potential.
“The coaches last year were teaching me on the fly, did a fantastic job,” Blough said. “But being able to have the spring where you can install the basic concepts and all the little minor details of the offense that I might have missed out while you prepare for other defenses during the fall, that was one of the biggest things for me. Now I can focus on some of these details, whether it’s verbiage or alignment. Things that are small, things that make a big difference in the game.
“That’s what I’m trying to prove to these coaches and they’ve done a great job teaching me and I want to do a good job and put that product out on the field for them.”