ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The locker room is much different now and Matthew Stafford knows it. Sure, the Detroit Lions quarterback expects a certain amount of change from year to year -- that’s the business of the NFL.
But, at age 28, Stafford isn’t exactly old in terms of years on this Earth, despite entering his eighth season in the NFL. Then he looks around and perhaps feels a bit beyond his years in a Lions locker room that has gone through a bunch of changes the past few years.
“It’s crazy how it happens,” Stafford said. “Feel like you’re the young guy forever and, it’s the NFL. They are always trying to bring in competition, bring in young guys to see if they can pave their way in this league, and we’re no different.
“We’ve got a lot of competition at a lot of positions and it’s going to make us better.”
That’s at least what Stafford is hoping in season No. 8, when -- all of a sudden -- he is one of the longest-tenured Lions around. Only long-snapper Don Muhlbach has been with the team longer consecutively. Stafford’s backup, Dan Orlovsky, was drafted by the Lions when Stafford was an early enrollee at Georgia, but his stints with the Lions were broken up by time with Houston, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew and linebacker DeAndre Levy were part of Stafford’s draft class in 2009. Everyone else, whether older or younger, has less tenure with the Lions than Stafford. And with the retirement of Calvin Johnson this offseason, Stafford becomes the franchise’s most familiar face as well.
Such is life as a player who has been surrounded by roster turnover his entire career.
“I’ve got a lot of football experience, comparatively, in this locker room,” Stafford said.
The Lions are hoping that experience will pay off this season, even if it is Stafford’s first without his Calvin Johnson-sized security blanket. Johnson was the player Stafford could rely on in the most dire of offensive situations, after a play broke down. He’d fling it up to Johnson and the Lions still had a chance of making a play.
Stafford has made plays on his own before -- he’s already the franchise’s record holder in attempts, completions and yards along with reaching 25,000 yards faster than any other quarterback in NFL history -- 25,976 and counting. But for the first time, he’ll have to do it without his star receiver.
Stafford knows that is gone now -- and it’s something he insists he has gotten past faster than the media has (and, likely, the fans as well). He has been practicing with the current group of Lions for a few weeks now, so he has had no choice but to move on, even if it will likely feel different from time to time.
So while there’s a chance the offense might look different and more might be asked of Stafford than ever before, he is mentally preparing for what's next -- has been for months.
“It’s, you know, June or May or whatever it is right now,” Stafford said. “We’ve got a lot of time between now and [the beginning of the season]. Obviously, [Johnson is] a Hall of Fame-type player so some of those players will look different, for sure.
“But we’ve got talented guys, pros who can make plays, and we’ll do that.”
That will start with Stafford, who is one of the old men of the Lions locker room as he enters the prime quarterbacking years of his NFL career.