Matthew Stafford will make Jim Schwartz live up to his word.
A few months ago, Schwartz attempted to downplay the rivalry brewing at starting quarterback. The first year head coach said that his stud rookie -- and $41.7 million investment -- would only start if ready, and if he was the best quarterback on the roster, leading many to speculate that veteran Daunte Culpepper would ultimately get the nod.
Stafford, it seemed, would simply be groomed.
But after several solid mini-camps, the quick-study youngster has already grown comfortable with Detroit's playbook, played himself into the confidence of his teammates, and is looking every part of the prototypical, gun-slinger he seemed to be when entering the draft.
Saturday was no exception.
|QB Meeting: Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan speaks with quarterbacks Drew Stanton, Matthew Stafford, and Daunte Culpepper. (AP Photo)|
During the team's first official training camp practice, Stafford and Culpepper split repetitions with the first team. Culpepper held his own, but it was No. 9 that turned heads.
Regardless of who you asked, Stafford's passes were tight and on the money. He didn't project any first camp jitters, and even drew praise from his teammates.
But his continued progress was lost on no one, least of all himself.
"I feel like I know what I’m doing, for sure," said Stafford, who the Lions spent the No. 1 pick on in April's draft. "I’ve just got to keep getting better. It’s obviously a learning process still and it will throughout the remainder of the season but hopefully I can learn fast and make some plays while I’m learning.
"It was a great time to get in there with those guys and get some quality reps against a good defense. There are some guys out there that are veteran players on defense making plays, too. It was a bunch of fun."
Culpepper, meanwhile, said that he identified with Stafford's work-ethic. The commonality, he explained, would allow the two to not only co-exist, but to breed a healthy competition.
Culpepper, 32, is entering his 11th season in the league. Many believe the starting gig is his to lose, especially given Detroit's expansion-like changes during the off-season. But he also knows the job hasn't been gifted to anyone.
"We work hard together and ultimately we’re teammates, so we just push each other and we’ve got to be the best that we can be," he said.
But the Lions youth movement might be to tempting for the coaching staff to resist. With All-World receiver Calvin Johnson, rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew, and second-year running back Kevin Smith, the team is enticed by the idea of adding Stafford's name to the group -- allowing chemistry to unfold and giving the future a bit of a nudge.
"I’ve got to get used to it to tell you the truth," said Stafford of the talented playmakers around him. "There was one that I probably could have thrown a little bit higher to Calvin that probably would have been completed that Ernie Sims tipped but it was a great play by (Ernie).
"It’s just tough getting used to the fact that you can actually throw it that high and somebody will come down with it. It’s a huge weapon, especially when we get down in the redzone having tall guys across the board being able to throw some fades and some things in the back of the endzone to help those guys out."