The instant Matthew Stafford signed on the dotted line – officially making him a Detroit Lion – the debate about who should be the starting quarterback in Motown began.
There were many who immediately pointed at Stafford, suggesting that the No. 1 overall pick couldn't do worse in the win column, not to mention the massive contract he signed. Others, citing the Joey Harrington catastrophe, suggested that Stafford shouldn't be thrown to the wolves immediately and that veteran Daunte Culpepper should be given the job -- all in effort to preserve Stafford's confidence while he becomes accustomed to the faster-paced, more complicated NFL.
Although many opinions differed, most shared the intention of developing Stafford. While Stafford's development is a priority, the Lions management and coaching staff are also interested in winning games now and are committed to putting the best players on the field.
In Week one, that may be Culpepper.
"I think Daunte (Culpepper) has put himself in a really good spot with his commitment to, No. 1, losing weight, and then the offseason program," said head coach Jim Schwartz during the team's mini-camp this week. "He was a marquee player in the league a few years ago and then he had the knee injury and had a setback.
"He looks like he's well on his way to getting back there; he's put the rest of the league on notice that he's back."
2004 was the MVP-caliber season Schwartz was referring to, with the knee injury occurring the following year. In 2004, Culpepper threw for 4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also ran for 406 yards and two touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 110.9.
Culpepper's commitment to regaining his form from earlier in his career has been evident in his offseason efforts to lose weight, add muscle and prepare in a way he never has before. All of his work – if nothing else – has left him feeling confident.
"I feel that this is the first time I've been 100-percent going into camp since 2004," said Culpepper. "So with that being said, I feel great. I'm going to continue to be the person I am, be the competitor I am and continue to get better and better. But I feel better than I did in 2004, so we'll see what happens."
The fact that Culpepper feels good is encouraging but his health and physical condition may not have been the only contributors to his fall from grace.
There have been some critics who have questioned Culpepper's ability to read defenses and his overall decision making. In his earlier years, this may have been masked by wide receiver Randy Moss, who consistently provided Culpepper with a safety net. Also the offense, which was designed by current Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, seemed to be the perfect match for Culpepper.
Both Linehan and Moss left in 2005 and Culpepper played in seven games that season before suffering a season-ending injury – throwing six touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Culpepper's 2004 environment seems to have been re-created in Detroit. He has been re-united with Linehan, and once again has a throw-me-the-ball-and-I'll-get-it safety net in Calvin Johnson.
So, if Culpepper's health, conditioning, and surroundings match that of 2004, can his performance follow suit?