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Lions could be appealing option for rookie quarterbacks ready to learn

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, right, and coordinator Jim Bob Cooter made their mark coaching quarterbacks. They, along with new QBs coach Brian Callahan, make Detroit a pressure-free environment for a young QB to develop behind starter Matthew Stafford. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- Matthew Stafford isn’t going anywhere. He’s the starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and if Calvin Johnson retires, the most recognizable face in the franchise.

He’s also shown improvement under Jim Caldwell, completing 60 percent of his passes or more in every game last season. He thrived under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter the second half of last season, hitting the top 10 in almost every major quarterbacking category.

Behind him, though, are a bunch of questions.

The Lions have ignored quarterbacks in the draft since selecting Stafford with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. Instead, the franchise went with experienced backups (Shaun Hill and then Dan Orlovsky) combined with undrafted free agents (Kellen Moore) to bolster the quarterback room.

That could change this season.

Expect the Lions to heavily consider drafting a quarterback at some point during April’s draft with the thought of developing the player behind Stafford. And for some of those candidates, that could be an appealing option.

"If I’m being selfish, for me personally and my career, you look at the best players in the NFL right now, or the best quarterbacks, and they all had a chance to sit behind someone for some period of time," Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "You look back at Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Colin Kaepernick, Tony Romo. Look at Tom Brady, he sat for a year.

"If you can sit and adjust yourself to the game and learn as much as you can, that’ll serve yourself. It’ll be good for you in the long run."

Hogan is among a group of quarterbacks who could get attention from the Lions late on the second day or during the third day of the draft, along with Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld, Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel, NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Arkansas' Brandon Allen and Michigan's Jake Rudock.

They all have different qualities and different levels of development necessary. Players like Rudock and Hogan might be ready faster to step in as a primary backup because of their experience in pro style systems at Stanford, Iowa and Michigan. Prescott might be the most athletic of the group.

Most, though, just want the opportunity -- starter or backup.

"Whatever situation would be awesome," Sudfeld said. "I think learning from a guy who is established and who could show me the ropes in a sense would be awesome. But if I have to go and blaze my own trail, that would be awesome, too.

"Wherever I go, there are great coaches and players that I’m not going to do it by myself."

With the Lions, there is a quarterback-intensive focus. Caldwell spent years as a quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning. Cooter was Stafford’s quarterbacks coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator and worked with Manning before that. New quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan worked with Manning and Brock Osweiler in Denver last season.

So the pedigree is there for working with and developing quarterbacks. Now it’s just trying to figure out which ones interest Detroit the most to back up Stafford. Making sure that quarterback understands his role, though, is going to be paramount.

"It’s what best for the organization," Brissett said. "Going out there and competing against whoever it is and learning everything from some of those vets.

"Making sure that when my time comes, I’m ready."