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Detroit Lions Analysis: The Resurgence of Quarterback Matthew Stafford

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Detroit Lions Analysis: The Resurgence of Quarterback Matthew Stafford
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Foregoing a projected No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, Sam Bradford elected to return to Oklahoma for his junior year. As a junior captain in the first game of the 2010 season, Bradford suffered a serious third-degree AC joint separation, only one play after becoming Oklahoma's all-time passing leader. 

Without him under center, the powerful Oklahoma Sooners went on to lose what was supposed to be an opening day tune-up game against Brigham Young University, 14-13. 

It was later announced that he would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery and enter the 2010 NFL Draft. 

Due to his shoulder injury, Bradford did not throw at the 2010 NFL Combine. 

This was the fate of the St. Louis Rams eventual No. 1 overall selection and the 2010 Offensive Rookie of The Year quarterback, Sam Bradford. 

Following both a successful shoulder surgery and a successful training and rehabilitation program, Bradford amazed. 

In 2010, Bradford became just the third rookie quarterback of all-time to start all 16 regular season games and pass for over 3,000 yards, joining current NFL legend Peyton Manning and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. 

This was certainly a testament to the success of the remedial procedure used to correct AC joint injuries. 

Sam Bradford’s success following the AC joint repair procedure is a positive omen for the Detroit Lions. 

Last season, in a Week 1 contest at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a Grade II shoulder separation after a violent blindside hit from Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. Prior to that hit, Stafford had completed 11 of his first 15 passing attempts. 

Stafford would not return to the game, and the Detroit Lions would go on to lose to Chicago 19-14. 

Much like St. Louis had relied on Bradford in 2010, Detroit’s future success directly hinges on the availability of Stafford. 

It was the recommendation of Dr. James Andrews that Stafford continue rehab as the best path to recovery. It was either rehabilitation of the injured shoulder or opting to undergo season-ending surgery. Stafford was definite in his stance that he wanted to return to the team as fast as possible. 

Prior to his rookie season, dating all the way back through the beginning of high school, Stafford had never missed a game due to injury. Watching from the sidelines isn’t something he has been or ever will be accustomed to.

Stafford was quoted as saying, “It’s been tough. I’ve never had to deal with it before. I’ve never had to miss a game in high school or college due to injury or anything like that. So it’s something that was new to me. I don’t want to get used to it; I’m not going to get used to it, obviously. But I had to change my role a little bit, and I understood. During the season I was trying to be as good of a positive leader as I could and still support and help the other quarterbacks that were out there making the plays.”

Stafford’s rehabilitation efforts after Grade II separation under the watchful eyes of Dr. Andrews and the Detroit Lions medical staff were a success. 

By Week 8, it was believed that Stafford had physically prepared himself to return to the team.

Stafford returned with a vengeance for the Week 8 contest versus the Washington Redskins at Ford Field.

The young Detroit gunslinger showed great poise in connecting on 26 passes for 212 yards and four touchdowns. 

Detroit Lions Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson accounted for 101 yards and three touchdowns in that game alone. It was thought that the Stafford-to-Johnson connection had finally been established. 

Ndamukong Suh’s fumble recovery that he ran back 17 yards for a touchdown was the nail in the coffin in Detroit’s 37-25 victory over the Redskins. It was the first time since 2007 that the team had won back-to-back home games. 

The Detroit offense was firing on all cylinders. In scoring 183 points through Week 8, the Lions were ranked first in the NFC North Division. 

The return of a strong Stafford signified that the Lions had prepared themselves for a strong run at the NFC North crown. 

The following week, Stafford picked right up where he left off. The stingy New York Jets defense could not contain Detroit’s young quarterback. In just over three quarters he threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns, adding another touchdown on the ground. Going into the fourth quarter, it looked as if the Lions were in the position to win an unprecedented third home game in a row. 

Then with just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it happened. Only two games into his return, Stafford would suffer his third significant shoulder injury of his short NFL career, and the second to his right shoulder in the 2010 season alone. 

With the pocket collapsing in Detroit’s own end zone, Stafford tucked the ball and looked up field for first down yardage. In less than 10 strides, Stafford was run down by Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas and dropped from behind. As a result, Stafford slammed violently into the turf, directly impacting his rehabilitated right shoulder. 

The Detroit medical staff’s initial assessment of Stafford’s shoulder was thought to be more severe than the previous shoulder injury suffered in Week 1. 

The impact to Stafford’s right shoulder was significant enough to be deemed a Grade III separation, an initial prognosis that that would effectively end Stafford’s 2010 season. 

Again, Stafford sought a second opinion from Dr. Andrews, the surgeon who consulted with Stafford after his first shoulder injury. 

Stafford’s visit with Dr. Andrews offered two options, one of which included season-ending shoulder surgery. The second option was a cortisone injection after rehabbing the shoulder over a two-week period to see if he could return before the end of the season. 

The Lions released a statement following Stafford’s visit with Dr. Andrews saying that Andrews' opinion was "consistent with the evaluation and diagnosis" of their own medical staff. 

Ultimately, the Lions along with Stafford and Dr. Andrews chose to power the star quarterback down for the remainder of the season and elected to undergo the corrective AC joint repair procedure.

On December 24, after weeks of silence regarding the state of Stafford’s shoulder, Detroit announced that Stafford would be placed on the injured reserve.

"After Matt hurt his shoulder, he was examined by both our medical staff and Dr. Andrews. There was a consensus at the time to proceed with a rehabilitation program and not to have surgery," Coach Jim Schwartz said. "After Matt's most recent visit to Dr. Andrews, it was determined by Dr. Andrews that Matt's healing process could be enhanced by undergoing surgery at this time. ... We have full confidence that Matt will be 100 percent before the start of training camp."

Following the successful procedure, Dr. Andrews had this to say: “It went very well," he said. "We now have plenty of time for a full recovery in order for him to get ready for next season. The procedure is the same one that we have successfully performed on a number of NFL quarterbacks. Matthew has one of the strongest arms in the league, and I am confident that he will be as strong as ever."

Following an intense post surgery rehabilitation program, Stafford is prepared to make an explosive impact in 2011.

Lions Team President Tom Lewand is thrilled with the progress that Stafford has made stating, “The injury that he sustained last year and the surgery that he had is very similar to Sam Bradford’s a year ago,” Lewand said. “And obviously, Sam had a tremendous rookie year, didn’t miss any snaps, and we feel the same about Matthew’s ability to go forward, better than he’s ever been.”

The summer of 2011 saw Stafford compete in and win a quarterback competition at is alma mater, Georgia University. Stafford’s final event clinching moment saw him complete a beautifully tight spiraled 50-yard bomb to a Georgia fan.

More importantly he felt good before, during and after the event. Stafford competed against fellow Georgia quarterback legends and NFL veterans Eric Zeier, David Greene and D.J. Shockley.

Stafford has been active this off-season following a successful rehabilitation program.

He was spotted working his arm out in Atlanta with Lions teammate Calvin Johnson and former Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. After posting a photo of the three working out, Ochocinco went on to tweet, “Training with Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford, today was Epic, Stafford is awesome and Megatron is the (ish), I’m the ‘lil black guy in the middle.”

The photo Ochocinco referred to on his Twitter account displayed a massive Calvin Johnson and a considerably larger, more built Matt Stafford.

Prior to informal team workouts put on by the players, Stafford was vigilant in gathering teammates for “unofficial workouts,” the first of which showcased over 30 teammates.

Stafford showed great strength while working to establish a connection with rookie wideout Titus Young. Young used words like “ridiculous” to describe Stafford's post-surgery arm strength. Titus claimed that his hands were stinging, adding, “I would think he had surgery to make his arm stronger.”

Stafford has shown great toughness and dedication through his vigorous rehabilitation efforts.

Stafford reiterated, “I stayed down there for 10 weeks with Dr. Andrews and the trainers and just did a really, really tough rehab program. Put on muscle and just did everything possible to try to strengthen my shoulders and get in as good of shape as I can possibly be in for the season." He went on to say, “I’ve done a lot of hard work this off-season and hopefully when they turn around and start letting us play and practice I’ll be able to play all 16 games and hopefully some more.”

It’s apparent that Stafford has physically prepared himself for a successful run in the 2011 season.

Clearly, Stafford has taken a greater interest in his health and body. Watching him during off-season workouts, it’s evident that he has been in the weight room, with special emphasis on his chest and shoulders.

A confident, more physical Matthew Stafford believes with the added bulk he can focus more on winning football games and less on re-occurring injuries.

Can the added bulk really protect him from further injury? ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell said, "Overall, there's probably less concern about re-injury." She added, "And there may be a confidence factor, too. If you feel stronger and more confident in your body, that can be a help returning to a sport where you've suffered some big injuries when you've taken big hits."

It’s been widely debated whether or not Stafford can stay healthy and carry Detroit to the promise land.

Stafford is a game-changing leader with ice in his veins who has made a career out of winning big games.

I project Stafford to throw for 3,500 yards, 25-30 touchdowns, with no more than 13 interceptions. Feel free to reference this article after the 2011 season.   

He is a ferocious young talent with a laser cannon for an arm.

Detroit must trust that Stafford's rare physical atributes will one day elevate them into the NFL elite.

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