Notebook: Stafford The Starter By Default?

Following the injury to Daunte Culpepper, the Detroit Lions may have to grant Matthew Stafford the starting nod after all. Much more inside, including notes and quotes from Allen Park.

Detroit's quarterback competition might have tipped favorably toward Matthew Stafford by a mere eight stitches.

"I know they have a quarterback race going on," quarterback Peyton Manning said Saturday after his Colts played the Lions in an exhibition. "But both of them looked good tonight, and I think the race is going to go down to the wire."

But Lions head coach Jim Schwartz still hasn't revealed any starter, despite the fact Culpepper may miss the final exhibition match against Buffalo after a laceration on his toe required eight stiches.

ESPNEWS revealed the other night that former Buccaneers' head coach and quarterback guru Jon Gruden believes Stafford should be handed the reigns. However, Gruden's former co-worker and ex-Lions coach Steve Mariucci thinks it should be Daunte Culpepper. Former Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz, responsible for several QB success stories, shares Mariucci's mindset.

Schwartz? He doesn't care what anyone thinks.

"We're going to do what's best for our club," Schwartz said. "We're going to do what's best for the guy that we drafted, not what somebody outside the building says, not what worked best for another player. Every player's different. Just the way it's going to be. Now, there's a lot of lessons to have been learned from a lot of different players that played right away, that sat right away. But it's going to be our decision here, and it's going to be based on the information we have in hand, not from wetting our finger and holding it up in the air, not from taking a poll, not from 'ask the audience lifeline' or anything like that. We're going to make a good, sound football decision based on the information we have here."

But with Stafford accumulating all the reps on Monday, and most if not all between Tuesday and Thursday's contest, Detroit might not have a choice. Especially if the competition is as tight as everyone's been led to believe.

Matthew Stafford might have won the QB competition by default. (Associated Press)

Prior to Culpepper's toe injury, both quarterbacks had received approximately equal time in the exhibitions - about a quarter and a half each - and split reps in practice every day. "Try to read tea leaves, get your tarot cards out, Ouija boards, whatever it is," Schwartz said. "The only thing we've done so far is try to equal reps out. We've done it in practice. We've done it in preseason games."

Culpepper started the first exhibition. Stafford started the second. Culpepper started the third. Schwartz said Stafford had a "good chance" to start the fourth and key players would not simply make cameos. In fact, the Lions are likely to play starting receivers Calvin Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, and Bryant Johnson at least the entire first half.

Schwartz said the Lions were trying to put Culpepper and Stafford in similar situations with similar personnel "to be able to make a fair evaluation. It's a rotational thing, and there's nothing to read into it."  Yet Culpepper's injury could make it a moot point.

Each quarterback has led the Lions to 10 points through three exhibitions - a touchdown and a field goal. In short, the difference is that Culpepper has been steadier, while Stafford has made bigger plays and bigger mistakes.

Culpepper has not turned over the ball but hasn't made many big plays. Stafford has thrown an interception in each exhibition, but he also has thrown some darts downfield.

Schwartz said he would decide on a quarterback after the exhibition finale but most likely would not make an announcement before the opener.

"There's a team down in New Orleans that's getting ready to play us," Schwartz said. "If they can zero in on one quarterback, it makes it a little easier for them to play. Most likely we'll try to just keep that a little bit close to the vest."

  • The Lions inked former Jets' starter and Viking signal caller Brooks Bollinger on Tuesday, immediately following the news that Drew Stanton would undergo an invasive operation on his left knee. Stanton had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee that left him on injured reserve during his rookie campaign. Bollinger, 29, is a six-year veteran with a career passer rating of 74.6 and worked out for the Lions two weeks ago. He'll have a physical and will likely suit up against Buffalo, especially if Culpepper is forced out of action for the Thursday preseason tilt. The Lions cut guard Terrence Metcalf to make room on the roster for Bollinger.
     
  • QB Matthew Stafford is confident in how he has run the offense. "I think the ball's going to the right spot," he said. "I'm trying to think of a play today where I didn't throw it to the right spot, and I'm having a tough time thinking of it. I'm not going to hit every throw. I'm not going to be 25-for-25 every night. But going to the right place is a big step, and I felt like I did that well." And if he doesn't start the opener? "I feel like I've played well," Stafford said. "I don't know what they're going to do. It's not up to me. I'm going to keep playing like this for as long as I can. I love playing football, and whether I play Game 1 or Year 2 or whenever it is, I'm going to be competing every day at practice like I compete right now trying to win a job."
     
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams and running back Aaron Brown have made some plays. But Williams, a third-round pick drafted mostly for special teams, fumbled a punt against Indianapolis. And Brown, a sixth-round pick with impressive speed, went the wrong way on one play and was responsible for a sack. Both need to eliminate those types of errors.
     
  • The Lions are being especially careful not to reveal too much of their scheme during the exhibition season. "You want to see players win in the preseason," Schwartz said. "You don't want to see scheme win. And I think we do have a little bit of a dynamic here, because we are a new coaching staff. We have opponents early in the season that don't know exactly what this final thing is going to look like." Schwartz said opponents don't know what to study when trying to prepare for the Lions. "All those things work to our advantage, the fact that there's not 100 percent certainty of what they're going to see on the field," Schwartz said. "So I don't see a big rush to ruin that dynamic."
     
  • The Lions signed Billy Cundiff, desperate for a kicker because of injuries. Jason Hanson is recovering from knee surgery and is questionable for the season opener. Swayze Waters would have filled in, but Waters suffered a hamstring injury and was released. Wide receiver Dane Looker can kick. He was 5-for-8 on field-goal attempts in practice Wednesday, with two of his misses from 53 yards. But Schwartz said it was "asking a little much for a position player to have to do double duty like that."
     
  • As Schwartz went over the kicking situation in a team meeting one night, he said he had another option. He showed a film clip of George Yarno kicking an extra point against the Lions. The thing is, it happened in 1983 at the Silverdome - when Yarno was a guard for Tampa Bay. He is now the Lions' offensive line coach. You could say the players got a kick out of it. "That was pretty funny," center Dominic Raiola said. Yarno was the Buccaneers' long snapper and emergency kicker back then. The Bucs' kicker got hurt in their second-to-last game, and his replacement struggled so badly in the season finale that coach John McKay fired him in the fourth quarter. Sure enough, the Bucs scored and sent Yarno, a 280-pound guy wearing No. 68, onto the field to kick the extra point. He ran straight ahead and booted the ball through the uprights with his left foot. The Silverdome roared, even though the Bucs were 2-13 and the Lions were 8-7, fighting for a playoff berth. "They just go crazy," Yarno said. "It's like I just kicked the extra point to win the Super Bowl."
     
  • Schwartz didn't give his players any special surprises during training camp, even though other coaches have done similar things and the players teased him about it. "As long as I'm head coach here, I don't know if I'll ever be pulling buses up and faking guys out, thinking that they're going to practice, and then taking them to the amusement park or taking them to the movies," Schwartz said. "I'd rather give them the day off than do something like that. I think that's a little contrived."
     
  • Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was loud and clear after a pitiful performance at Cleveland: "If you can't tackle, you can't play defense, and you definitely are not going to play here on defense." The Lions missed tackles and gave up big plays in their first two exhibitions -  most notably a 40-yard touchdown run to Atlanta's Michael Turner and an 81-yard TD run to Cleveland's James Davis. If you were reminded of last year, when the Lions had the NFL's worst defense and went 0-16, you weren't the only one. "That's what's happened here in the past," Cunningham said. "I think they played hard. I saw that tape. But there were breakdowns, and somebody wouldn't want to tackle the guy. That's not going to happen. I'm just not going to let it happen."
     
  • Cunningham said he could tolerate mental errors but not shying away from contact. He considers it an attitude problem that traces to today's society in general. "Coaches aren't tough enough on the players," said Cunningham, 63. "If a guy misses a tackle, 'That's all right, you'll get him next time.' I think that's a load of garbage. ... Our social makeup right now is, you tell the young kids, 'Don't worry about who wins and loses.' Well, when you get out on this level, that team on the other side is not there to lose. They want to beat you. I think it's how they grow up sometimes."
     
  • One player who does not shy away from contact is safety Louis Delmas, a second-round pick this year. He blew up two teammates in practice in two weeks. The second time, he ignited a minor brawl. "You look at a guy like Louis Delmas," Cunningham said. "The thing I worry about him, when he runs and goes and gets the ball, I'm sure his mindset says, 'If I run 25 yards, I'm going to kill this guy on the way.' That's his makeup. That's his attitude. So you've got to be careful with those kind of guys. You've got to tone them down a little bit. But there are a lot of masquerade guys. I call them pretenders instead of contenders. They don't have the want-to in their body and we're looking for want-to guys."

    Delmas' second hit and the minor brawl came on the last day of camp, while the players' families were gathering for a post-practice picnic. "There's a little bit of celebration involved - as long as our Hatfields and McCoys don't start fighting during the family picnic," Schwartz said, smiling. "I told them, 'I don't want to see any fights during the family picnic. You're not allowed to carry your fight out by matching your kids up against each other. And I want shirts on at all times.' "
     
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm flat pissed off, if you want to know the truth. I don't tolerate that. I cannot tolerate turning down a tackle." - Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, on four players who turned down the opportunity to tackle Cleveland's James Davis on an 81-yard touchdown run.

 


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