There are things Matthew Stafford can do that few NFL quarterbacks can do. His arm talent is superb and that gives him the confidence to throw into some of the tightest windows you ever saw.
Stafford also became a good leader over time for the Detroit Lions. He worked with his receivers off to the side after a play in practice. He got players out of the huddle efficiently and had good command of the offense.
I got so used to seeing Stafford play and practice over 12 years that I took his arm strength and some of his other skills for granted.
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That’s why I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be Thursday watching Jared Goff officially take over as the Lions’ quarterback in the first practice open to reporters during organized team activities.
Without question, I was impressed with Goff.
He certainly didn’t have the same kind of zip on the ball that Stafford had, but he had pretty good pace and put a nice amount of air underneath his passes that allowed receivers to time their catches on deep throws.
Who knows? Goff’s slightly slower ball actually might be somewhat of a welcomed change for pass-catchers if you consider that Stafford’s fastball once broke Yamon Figurs’ pinkie during practice.
“We’re only Week 1 into it,” coach Dan Campbell said of OTAs, “but I can tell you this: He throws a pretty ball, that’s for sure.”
Goff wasn’t perfect. He threw a couple of wobblers, which is typical for most quarterbacks. There seemed to be some miscommunication on one throw that went to no one in particular during one drill, and linebacker Anthony Pittman knocked away his quick slant pass to Quintez Cephus that made the defense act like it had won the Powerball.
But during the hourlong practice reporters were allowed to watch, Goff looked every bit the part of a starting quarterback, crisp in his movements, efficient with his reps and confident in his demeanor. He looked like an eager student listening to offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn’s personal instruction, then he looked equally comfortable as a teacher working with receivers and running backs.
Goff threw several short passes to D’Andre Swift and they seemed to have a good chemistry. After one drill, Goff approached Swift and gave him some feedback.
“It’s amazing so far,” Swift said of his relationship with Goff. “Natural leader. Talked to him a lot when he first got the job. Just couldn’t wait to get in contact with him. Threw with him in an offensive skill group out in L.A. for a week before anybody got in town. Just the way he’s handling everything, I love being around him.”
More than anything, it’s going to be Goff’s connection with his teammates that determines his success. He has given himself a good chance at making that connection by inviting skill players like Swift to practice with him in Los Angeles earlier this year to get a jumpstart on learning the new offensive system and its terminology.
Thursday’s practice was basically a run-through of team drills with players in helmets and shorts, when everyone moves freely and looks fast. Even so, I think Goff looked a little quicker than Stafford, whose own mobility was underrated.
But Goff’s performance in his first practice for the Lions under outside scrutiny was more than that. It was more than ball velocity and foot speed and whether he wore his cap backwards or forwards. It was how he carried himself and led the team.
“… I like his mannerisms,” Campbell said, “I like his command in the huddle and I would say, man, he’s progressing right kind of where you want him to progress at this point.
“There again, we’re not in (full team practices). We’re doing these walkthroughs, but there again the first live seven-on-seven (Wednesday) just watching him throw and some of the things to come out of it — look it’s baby steps right now. And there again, it’s good to have him here.”
It’s very early in this NFL season and in this rebuild for the Lions. There’s a long way to go as the team takes this thing down to the studs and tries to erect something new from the ground up.
No one knows how good Goff will be and when the comparisons to Stafford will end, if they ever do. But for one day, for the first time in a long time, the Lions had someone different making the calls and leading the team. And he looked pretty good doing it.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.