Donofrio: It's on Culpepper's Shoulders

The hope of the Detroit Lions franchise? It rests upon a guy who only joined the team two weeks ago. Columnist Adrian Donofrio offers his take on just how important Daunte Culpepper is to the future of Detroit football -- and it just might surprise you.

And this load is like the weight of the world
And I think my neck is breakin' should I just give up
Or try to live up to these expectations? - Eminem

For most fans, heading into Sunday's game against Carolina, the spotlight will not be on whether or not Detroit's hapless Lions can eek out a victory -- it will be on one man and one man only: Daunte Culpepper.

As most know, the results of this week's game are already a mere afterthought, an assumed submission on the part of the Detroit Lions and yet another "L" in the only column Detroit has managed to make any sort of impact on all year long.

Focus now shifts to individual players and positions, and no position has ever drawn more focus to itself than the quarterback position. Detroit saw its debut of the lawded-then-retired Daunte Culpepper. In typical Lions fashion, it was nothing short of underwhelming -- a performance that saw him go a paltry 5-10, including a pick on the opening drive.

Please don't raise your hand if you didn't see that coming.

And while normally those type of statistics are saved for old Mike McMahon box stats, this was bestowed to fans by a "four time Pro Bowler." After all, fans hopes had been dashed by this very man just a few short years ago when he teamed with Randy Moss and assaulted several paper thin Detroit defenses. However , nobody expected Culpepper to decimate the Lions when he was an ACTUAL Lion.

With that said, it's unfair to expect anybody -- including Culpepper, to light anybody up on three practices. Wearing two wrist bands that donned all seven Detroit offensive plays, it was clear Daunte had little time to pick up the playbook and let things soak in. Another week's worth of practice, and Daunte is more than likely still tremendously uncomfortable with his grasp on a foreign offense.

But Detroit fans are battled and weary, weathered from constant losing, let downs and defeats. Coach Rod Marinelli is hanging by a string for his job, likely only remaining because interim GM Martin Mayhew either doesn't care, or doesn't want to make a temporary hiring for somebody who is likely to get fired if and when a new GM is in place. With that said, Rod is in a live-interview situation, where his future with Detroit and the league itself as a head coach is in jeopardy if he doesn't produce SOMETHING very soon. With Drew Stanton looking like he could actually have a future in the league with last week's mop up duty, could there actually be a quarterback controversy in Detroit? Even after signing Daunte Culpepper only a short week and a half ago?

Culpepper had this to say on his performance: "It's a work (in) process. Like I said before, I knew and understood how tough it is to come and play the game of football when you're working in the same system for the whole off-season -- so to come in quickly was tough but I was up to the challenge."

Meanwhile, Drew Stanton dropped hints in post-game press conferences that he is obviously spent time in the offensive playbook and continues to be prepared for his opportunity.

"It was so much fun and that's why you put so much preparation in throughout the year -- is to get those opportunities."

"There were some things -- and just knowing this offense and being prepared like I said -- you never know when you'll get your opportunity"

Culpepper may be overwhelmed, but Rod may not be so reluctant in his situation to keep him on a short leash. Even though "Pep" was the one with the Mike McMahon-like stats last week, one can only remember a few years ago when McMahon came in after a game was well out of hand. Thanksgiving against the Packers, and McMahon nearly came in and saved the game, much to the chagrin of oft-maligned Charlie Batch. This sparked a new hope in Detroit, that fans had finally had somebody to pin their hopes on, someone to take them where they'd never been. Those assumptions and dreams were about as accurate as any of McMahon's passes thereafter.

Even in only his second game as a Lion, Culpepper may have found himself in perhaps not a must win situation, but a "must perform" situation. Games are blacking out for the first time in years, the annual Thanksgiving Game, Detroit's only pride and joy when it comes to the Lions, may be in danger of being pulled. Fans aren't buying what the Lions are selling; literally. This is a situation where fans need something to sink their teeth in -- HOPE.

Three practices are all Culpepper saw last week and it showed, the coaching staff only let him throw ten times. But in a country where "change" is something to believe in -- Culpepper will need to change not only the fortunes of Detroit and the status qo of it's quarterback position -- he'll need to do it fast.

 


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