By now, you’ve certainly heard the news: Drew Stanton will be starting for the Lions as they face the Bears this Sunday. This kicked off a cavalcade of reactions:
- Sean Yuille at Pride of Detroit:
“Apparently Schwartz said that the offense won't change with Stanton at the helm. All I can say is I'll believe it when I see it.”
- Neil at Armchair Linebacker:
"Hell had to find a way to ferret out the tiny pockets of hope that were still left in the fanbase and then crush their fragile spirits, and what better way to do that than to parade down the streets with a clueless Drew Stanton waving and smiling and throwing Grit at horrified onlookers while the devil rides an evil sleigh made from the bones of Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill?"
- Big Al at The Wayne Fontes Experience just screamed, senselessly.
I come from a different school of thought entirely. Way back in March of aught-nine, in this blog’s third month, I penned a little piece I called “On Quarterbacks,” which was much more about Drew Stanton in particular than quarterbacks in general:
Stanton is a player I have an extra soft spot for, because my then-toddler daughter was introduced to football through him. One of the games we'd play with her would be to point out Drew Stanton every time teh camera closed in on him. In fact, one of the first times she recognized a number was during a Spartan football game, and she started shouting, "Green Number Five!" It took us a little while to realize that she was seeing Stanton and calling out his jersey number: a green five. When got a little older, my mother taught her to say "Drew Stanton, what a babe!" (gee, thanks, Mom). Ultimately, DS was kind enough to do an autograph session at the Mall, and my little girl actually got to meet the man in person.
Anyway, when Stanton was drafted by the Lions, it was a dream come true, of course. A second-round pick, at just the right time to draft and groom a QB, and a very Millen kind of QB, a tough-nosed, smart, gritty, vocal leader. The kind of player who legitimately hates opponents and wants to beat them--not for glory, not for stats, not for money, but for the sake of victory. The kind of player who can't stand losing, and will give every last ounce he's got to come out on top. That is exactly the kind of quarterback that most Lions fans have been screaming for for years, yet have not ever seen.
I was both thrilled and scared to tell my daughter about Drew Stanton What A Babe becoming a Lion, because deep down I feared that what happened to Chuck would happen to Drew. That the dark presence that hangs over this organization would roll down upon Ford Field and smite him, and DS would never lead the Lions to anything. Sure enough, it's been two whole seasons now; thanks to injuries, blackouts, and the ineffable Will of Rod, my now-twice-as-old-as-she-was-then daughter has still never seen Drew Stanton play for the Lions. She roots for the Buccaneers now.
If the Millen/Martz/Marinelli three-headed monster, and multiple untimely injuries, hadn’t snuffed out Drew Stanton’s hopes of ever becoming The Lions’ Quarterback (instead of a Lions quarterback), the selection of Matthew Stafford did. As soon as the ink was dry on Stafford’s massive contract, the forecast for Drew Stanton’s Lions career read “Cloudy with a slight chance of Charlie Batch in Pittsburgh.” From that point, Hometown Boy Career Backup was the best Detroit Lion he could hope to be.
Unfortunately, Drew hasn’t made enough of his few chances to get even there. His first—and until Sunday, his only—NFL start didn’t go so hot: 11 of 21 for 130 yards, no scores, and 3 INTs. Combined with his various relief and mop-up appearances, he’s completed 55 of 104 attempts for 611 yards, two TDs, and seven interceptions. That’s a career passer rating of 49.0.
His limitations as a passer are undeniable. At his best, Drew’s passes are in the right place at the right time, but lack zip, especially on deep routes. At his worst, his throws are wildly inaccurate and easily intercepted. As Neil is so fond of pointing out, though, Drew’s stock in trade is Grit: with heart and effort and general athletic ability, he goes out and makes plays and does his best to win, no matter the odds. In college, it worked—sometimes spectacularly. Drew did engineer the biggest comeback in NCAA D-I history, after all.
Unfortunately, the same hasn’t been true so far in the pros. In preseason, we’ve seen Stanton scramble for scores and throw 50-yard bombs—but when the bullets have been live, he’s been a dud. Some of it’s because his team’s been terrible. Some of it’s because he gets almost zero practice reps outside of training camp, so never practices with the starters and barely practices at all. Some of it’s because his best chance to make it in the pros was with slow, steady, careful grooming to build good habits and iron out bad ones. Some of it’s because . . . well, his limitations as a passer are undeniable.
Even so, this season we saw some real progress out of Drew. When he came in cold against the Giants, he turned in a performance that was a little shaky—but, yes, gritty. He made plays when he had to, and nearly shocked the Giants at Your Company Name Here Stadium. He impressed everyone, even Giants head coach Tom Coughlin:
"The third quarterback came in and, geez, he played very, very well,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
And Dominic Raiola--part of a Lions offensive line that worked incredibly hard to give Drew time against one of the better pass rushes in the NFL--voiced his support of Drew, too:
"Drew is mentally tough. You're not going to tell him he can't play and then he'll go in the tank. The guys are behind him -- he got better and he did a good job for us,'' Lions center Dominic Raiola said. "Drew's come a long way. He's so improved. People who think he's not an NFL quarterback ... he looked like one out there to me. He did a great job of preparing and he gave us a chance."
. . . and Stephen Peterman, too:
"I thought he did great,'' guard Stephen Peterman said. "He came in and stepped in and played a helluva game. He made checks and looks that you wouldn't expect from a guy who hasn't been in there. He did a great job."
In the wake of the Bills loss, I angrily blamed Jim Schwartz for starting a severely hampered Shaun Hill (who was too hurt to practice the whole playbook that week), instead of giving Drew a solid week of preparation with the starters. Surely, I said during the Fireside Chat, if you knew that that was all Shaun Hill could give you, you have to start Drew. If you can’t count on your third quarterback to play when your second-stringer is too hurt to take snaps under center, then what is he doing on the roster? Schwartz answered that very question this week:
"There's a reason we've kept him around, and you only keep a guy around if you have confidence to put him in a game," Schwartz said. "His role has been third quarterback, and now it's time for him to be able to answer that and be able to go."
Obviously, actions speak louder than words: if Shaun Hill, playing at about 52% of his usual ability, gets the nod over a healthy Drew Stanton, then in fact you don’t have confidence to put him in a game. Then again, actions speak louder than words—Schwartz and Mayhew have had plenty of opportunities to cut Drew loose and bring in someone else. The Lions have not been shy about churning the roster; there’ve been no sacred cows. Even beloved, respected, hometown boy, brought-in-by-this-regime Jon Jansen was sent packing when the Lions thought his roster spot would be better served on someone younger. In fact, they have brought in several other quarterbacks: Brooks Bollinger, Kevin O’Connell, Zac Robinson—and they just worked out Josh McCown and J.T. O’Sullivan earlier this week. If any of those guys offered a floor, or ceiling, higher than Stanton, Drew’d be gone.
I realize, at this point, that I sound like a fool. I realize, at this point, that everyone else long ago boarded the Drew Stanton Sucks So Bad it’s Funny train, even though the reality of his situation hasn’t changed: he’s still a 2007 second-round draft pick, and he’s still only getting his second real shot at playing quarterback for this team. He’s getting a full week of practice reps with the ones, a full week of preparing as the starter, a sellout home crowd, and a team eager to play for him—and get the victory over the Bears that was taken from them.
Go get ‘em, Drew.