Heading into camp, the Detroit Lions have a first-round selection at quarterback looking to prove that he deserves to start and is capable of leading the Lions’ renaissance.
Believe it or not, that quarterback is Daunte Culpepper.
Culpepper believes that the Lions are in a position to surprise many people in the upcoming season and is determined to be the man leading the offense.
“I feel good. It felt good to kind of get back into things. Training camp is always very exciting for me” said Culpepper said after a recent training camp practice. “Now, it’s time for some of that to start paying off.
"We still have a lot of hard work to go through, but we want to see some of the hard work paying off now.”
No one has worked harder than Culpepper during the last several months as the 32-year-old signal caller spent the offseason shedding pounds and adding muscle.
Daunte Culpepper takes a knee during Tuesday's camp session
Culpepper’s improved physical conditioning should help him avoid any setbacks during camp – which is allowing the recent journeyman to enjoy his first training camp at near perfect health since 2004.
Overshadowed by the strong-armed, more fancied Matthew Stafford, Culpepper's camp performances to date reflect his renewed physique and attitude, and his arm seems more lively than last year, where his patch-work presence left much to be desired.
Basically, if Stafford's performances have indeed been the best, Culpepper isn't far behind.
The former 11th overall draft choice contrasted attending this year’s camp and missing the last few.
“Oh man, it’s like night and day,” said Culpepper, who tossed a touchdown strike to rookie Derrick Williams during a 7-on-7 drill on Tuesday. “It’s like you’re starting a race and everybody’s starting off even. When you’re not in training camp, you’re giving everybody a head start.
"That’s kind of how I looked at it and I’m just glad that I could start off even with everybody and see what happens then.”
Some may brush off the suggestion that Culpepper’s absence from his recent training camps have played a significant role in his struggles, but a closer look at the numbers may prove otherwise.
In the last four seasons, Culpepper either missed training camp altogether or was severely limited, and it reflected in his early struggles each of those years. Looking at the first two games of each season (eight total) Culpepper has thrown 210 passes, completing 122 (58.1 percent completion) for 1,485 yards, four touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
The veteran turned it around by the end of those seasons. Using the last two games as the scale, Culpepper completed 131 of 211 passes (62.09 percent completion) for 1,593 yards and five touchdowns against only two interceptions.
Culpepper’s situation heading into the 2009 season is a microcosm of the entire Lions’ organization: Little expectations externally with high expectations internally as both the player and the team attempt to resurrect themselves from the ashes of mediocrity.
“A lot of guys are going to contribute,” said Culpepper. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. I just can’t wait to get it really going.”
With a common goal – to shock the world – is what makes Culpepper and the Lions the perfect match for 2009.