|National Football League|
Lions QB Stafford happy to be healthy for a change
By LARRY LAGE
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Matthew Stafford was hanging out in Georgia a year ago, recovering from surgery on his right shoulder and waiting for the NFL's labor problems to end.
The quarterback, his throwing arm and the league are in much better shape these days.
"It's nice to not have to put myself back together," Stafford said Monday as he joined his teammates for their first voluntary workout of the year to lift weights, run and throw passes to receivers without coaches allowed to observe.
Stafford threw for 5,000-plus yards and 41 touchdowns last season to lead Detroit to its first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. The Lions were able to keep all the players they wanted, other than cornerback Eric Wright, who left to sign with Tampa Bay, and also kept much of their coaching staff together.
"We're building," Stafford said. "We're not starting from scratch."
While the Lions are trying to ride the momentum created last season, Stafford said coach Jim Schwartz had an off-the-field message to deliver during Monday's team meeting after two players were in the news recently. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was arrested earlier this month on a charge of possessing marijuana and running back Mikel Leshoure had marijuana with him during two traffic stops in less than a month, according to authorities.
"We've come so far, we don't want anything to hold us back," Stafford recalled Schwartz telling the team. "I think everybody knows that. We're a mature team. Obviously, some of the guys that were having troubles off the field are younger, but they'll figure it out and we'll be there to help them along."
Stafford said Fairley and Leshoure didn't address the team.
The Lions started this week's workouts without defensive end Cliff Avril, who is still hoping to sign a long-term deal instead of a one-year contract with the non-exclusive franchise tag. The designation allows other teams to negotiate with Avril that are willing to give up a pair of first-round picks to sign him, knowing the Lions would have the option of matching the offer.
Linebacker DeAndre Levy and offensive tackle Corey Hilliard did work out with teammates after signing their tenders as restricted free agents, as did defensive tackle Sammie Hill even though he hadn't signed his tender.
"Everybody is happy to be back together," Stafford said. "We finished with a good season last year and we're looking to build off of it for this year."
Stafford said he has been getting in "great shape" by training for several weeks with other NFL players in Florida. He played in 17 games last season, including a 45-41 loss to Green Bay in the wild-card round, after injuries limited the 2009 No. 1 pick overall to just 13 games combined in his first two seasons.
How does it make him feel, he was asked, to not have to answer so many injury-related questions?
"It's great, except you just asked me one," Stafford joked.
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Updated April 17, 2012