It has been 283 days since the last time we saw quarterback Matthew Stafford step onto the football field and lead the Detroit Lions' offense Week 9 in Oakland last season. It was late in the fourth quarter of that contest on Nov. 3 when Stafford took a big hit on a scramble and injured his back, ending his season.
To say a lot has happened since then, both on and off the football field, is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country right when NFL players - including a healthy Stafford - were set to begin the offseason training program. Those programs happened virtually instead of in person in Allen Park, and while Stafford was still able to throw to his receivers, tight ends and running backs on their own off site, it's the not the same as working through a fast-paced and competitive NFL practice.
Detroit begins the real practice portion of training camp Monday, and it will be the first time Stafford is leading the offense in that kind of competitive setting in over nine months.
"I feel good," Stafford said Tuesday in a Zoom call with reporters. "It's obviously exciting to get back in the building. Not having an offseason of OTAs and just being able to be around the guys, throw and catch, all of that kind of stuff is the stuff you miss, so I'm happy to be back.
"I feel good, body feels good, arm feels good and all that, so I'm just excited to kind of ramp this thing up and get it rolling."
Stafford was having a terrific season statistically before the injury last year. He was tops in passing yards and touchdowns through eight games and his 106.0 passer rating was fifth best. He was leading the way in 25-yard completions and overall playing some of the best football of his career.
Without Stafford the second half of the season, Detroit didn't win another contest and finished with the third worst record in football.
Keeping Stafford healthy, while navigating through a very different training camp to prepare the team for Week 1 vs. Chicago, is a priority for the Lions over the next month.
No preseason games or joint practices means the first time Stafford will see another defense other than his own will be Chicago's on Sept. 13. Stafford pointed out that every team is in the same boat, but he did admit there are certainly challenges that come with that.
"It'll be a different training camp this year," he said. "No preseason games to prepare for. Just battling it out against our own defense and against our own team just trying to make sure we're as sharp as we can be heading into Week 1.
"It'll be different, there's no question. We're going to have to do a great job making sure practice is ramped up. Practices around here for the past few years have been extremely competitive and very face paced, and I expect that to be the same, if not more. We have to make sure we do what we have to do to prepare."