There are plenty of story lines as the Detroit Lions open training camp in 2014.
A new coaching staff and its self-imposed Super Bowl expectations ... Ndamukong Suh's contract situation ... Darius Slay's development.
But none of that really compares to primary story in camp: Matthew Stafford's progress.
As always, all eyes will be on #9. We will all be watching his every back pedal, charting his every side arm throw and noting his every over-throw. He’s under the microscope, but he has been since he was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. Every quarterback in this league is under the same scrutiny, just not with the same skeptical attitude.
Simply put: Stafford wasn't good enough last year. He made some incredible throws and made a number of players better, but reverted back to some bad decisions. It cost him. But more importantly, it cost the team.
The franchise has given him the support he's desperately needed, and I don't mean on the field in the form of Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Calvin Johnson. I'm talking about on the sidelines, with head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter.
Players have already mentioned the thing that has been missing on this team for a long time -- accountability. Too often recently, coaches "coddled" certain players. Caldwell and his staff have made it very clear that will not be the case under their leadership.
If Stafford overthrows a receiver on a rail route, then he will be called out. If Suh reads the wrong gap, then he will hear about it. If Calvin Johnson makes the wrong read, he will be openly corrected. There are no "privileged" players.
That's a start in the right direction. Caldwell can do this because of his resume, and because the previous way didn't work. It's refreshing and needed.
The NFC is a beast with teams like Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Arizona, Philadelphia and Green Bay, but maybe, just maybe, coaching is what has held this team back in the past. Caldwell has taken a team to a Super Bowl and another to the playoffs. His demeanor screams professionalism and his actions are already highly-respected, because he has stressed accountability and discipline. His decision-making of the men who are on his staff was applauded and his philosophy seems sound.
Can he put it all together with a team that features very good talent, but has been on a wayward way to take "the next step?" We will soon find out. It's possible. We've seen it happen in sports for years, so why not here? No one would argue this team has talent to compete with certain clubs in the NFC that are fancied playoff favorites.
No matter what, Caldwell needs Stafford as much as the Lions appeared to need this fresh Caldwell approach. As many story lines as we try to create and follow, the only one that really matters is the improvement of Stafford and how Caldwell navigates the landmines of a Lions season.
[PODCAST] Lions Open Training Camp
Shep talks about the main story lines heading into training camp for the Detroit Lions, including Matthew Stafford's progression, the influence of Jim Caldwell and the contract status of Ndamukong Suh.
Matt Shepard is the play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball, Eastern Michigan University football and the Detroit Lions television network. He can also be found on TV locally on Fox Sports Detroit and nationally on the Big Ten Network for college hockey and baseball.Learn more.