Lions Camp Goal? Develop Matt Stafford

The reward of humiliation? No. 1 pick Matt Stafford. That means the Lions cannot afford to miss the boat on developing its franchise quarterback, and that process begins in training camp. Two other key goals as the Lions prepare for training camp which kicks off July 30.

Training camp goals:

1. Develop Matthew Stafford: This season is not as important as the long-term health of the Lions' quarterback of the future, and brass seems to understand that.

The Lions have gone 31-97 over the past eight years and hit rock bottom last year with the NFL's first 0-16 season. They used the No. 1 pick in the draft on quarterback Matthew Stafford.

General manager Martin Mayhew has acknowledged that highly drafted quarterbacks tend to fail when they are rushed into bad situations. Coach Jim Schwartz has said repeatedly that Stafford will not play until he is both ready and the best quarterback.

With veteran Daunte Culpepper apparently rejuvenated, having lost more than 30 pounds in a fight for his own future, the Lions should be able to have patience with Stafford.

But they don't want to hold him back, either, and they need to get him as many reps as possible in training camp. Stafford has said he is eager to compete and ideally would like to start Week 1.

No. 1 overall picks Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning took poundings as rookies, but the experience helped them later. The Lions need to figure out what's best for Stafford and, thus, move the franchise forward.

2. Shore up the secondary: The Lions thought they had shored up their secondary heading into training camp last year. They had acquired cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Brian Kelly and safeties Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson.

But the secondary produced only one interception all season, as the Lions' defense ranked last in points and yards allowed for the second straight season.

Bodden, the man who made that lone pick, is gone, along with Kelly and Smith. The Lions overhauled the secondary again, acquiring cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry and Eric King and drafting Louis Delmas.

Will Buchanon play the role of Bodden, the player who was supposed to be up-and-coming but ends up down-and-out? Will Henry play the role of Kelly, the aging veteran on his last legs? Will King play the role of Pearson, the special teams ace unready to start? Or will things turn out the way the Lions envisioned this time?

Delmas was impressive after joining the offseason program and needs a lot of reps so he can be prepared to start.

3. Repair the offensive and defensive lines: Mayhew and Schwartz talked about building from the inside out and wanting a bigger, stronger team. They have added size, but sizeable holes remain.

On the offensive line, the biggest question mark is at left guard. The man atop the depth chart is Daniel Loper, who spent the past four years as a backup in Tennessee, where Schwartz was defensive coordinator. He never started a regular-season game.

The defensive line needs work, though there is talent in second-year defensive end Cliff Avril and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham's love of blitzing should take off some of the pressure.

The Lions signed veteran defensive tackle Grady Jackson, but he didn't participate in organized team activities or minicamps because of a knee problem. They still could sign free agent defensive end Kevin Carter.

CAMP CALENDER: Players report July 30 and the first practice is July 31. Camp breaks Aug. 20.


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