PONTIAC, Mich. -- It may not be stretching a point to say rookie quarterback Rodney Peete and Detroit's new offense were made for each other.
Peete, the Lions' sixth-round draft choice, has emerged after just one exhibition game as the front-runner to run Detroit's version of the four-receiver 'run and shoot' offense.
'I think he is, of all the quarterbacks I've seen in college football the last couple of years, the best running thrower I've seen,' said Sid Gillman, long-time NFL coach and offensive wizard. 'I don't think anybody can touch him as a guy who can run and get rid of the ball accurately. If that's the kind of offense they're using, he'll fit like a glove. And I'm not discounting his other talents at all.'
Lions' coach Wayne Fontes is calling his offense the 'Stretch,' because the employment of four receivers, no tight end and just one running back stretches the ability of a defense to cover all the eligible receivers.
It is designed and run by its originator, Darrel 'Mouse' Davis plus his protege, former quarterback June Jones.
And it works. In Detroit's first exhibition game, it rolled up more yardage (438 yards) than the Lions had totaled in any game since 1985.
Peete got better and better as the game went on, getting 141 yards passing in the second quarter to end his half of work 11 for 23 for 155 yards and one touchdown. A big play was a 23-yard scramble for a first down after two of Peete's fumbles gave Cleveland five points.
In the last two possessions of the half, Peete brought Detroit 10 points as he appeared more and more ideally suited to the 'Stretch.'
With no tight end and a back whose primary purpose is running rather than blocking, the Lions' new offense puts a premium on a quarterback's ability to react quickly to situations.
A quarterback who can think and throw on the run (and who can run) is much better off than one who cannot. Peete is vastly more mobile than his competitors, Chuck Long, Eric Hipple, Rusty Hilger and Bob Gagliano.
'It just depends on whether you put a priority on somebody who is 6-4 and weighs 220,' Gillman said. 'Rodney is 6-foot and weighs 190. It's just a question these days of taking the punishment, of endurance.
'I'm not in coaching any more, not in a position to tell anybody to draft this guy or that guy. I just looked at Rodney the last couple of years. He's a great young man. I never met him, never worked him out. I merely observed him as a player.'
There are football coaches who will never know as much about offenses as Gillman has forgotten. He was ripping defenses apart with passes back in the days when smash-mouth football was the rage. He's always been like a Hall of Fame receiver -- a step ahead of the defense.
'I don't work for anybody anymore,' he said. 'I'm finished, but I'm staying with it. I'm taping everybody I can get my hands on and watching as many games as I can. It's not going to leave me.'
Gillman isn't alone in his assessment of Peete, who allegedly was passed over so far in the draft because he had a poor workout in a tryout camp, was hurt in post-season play and doesn't have an arm that can force a football through a boulder.
'I was impressed with him -- and we beat him,' Michigan coach Bo Schembechler said of Peete after a 22-14 victory against Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. 'If I could have three quarterbacks, he'd be one of them.'
'We were fortunate to get him in the sixth round,' Fontes said. 'He's undersized. He has a very good arm, but he doesn't have an arm like (Miami's Dan) Marino or (former Pittsburgh Hall of Famer Terry) Bradshaw.
'But he has enough to get the job done. He has good poise and he's very intelligent in his reads.'
Peete's father is an assistant with the Green Bay Packers and has held several pro jobs, with Rodney tagging along each summer. Peete thus knows about what goes on in training camp, which is an adjustment in itself for many rookies.
The fact Detroit's offense is new to all the quarterbacks also works to Peete's benefit. Most of the receivers are new, too -- too small or with some flaw that kept them from catching on elsewhere.
Peete is Fontes' choice, and that doesn't hurt either. The Lions have been so bad for so long a new quarterback with a new offense can't be any worse -- even if they lose games 42-38 now instead of 17-10.