It's official: Culpepper's the starter

The Lions are done trying to hold a secret. Former Viking Daunte Culpepper will start for Detroit again on Sunday, returning to the place where his career took a sudden and dramatic turn with his knee injury.

No more mystery. No more pretense. Daunte Culpepper will be the Lions' starting quarterback Sunday at Carolina.

Coach Rod Marinelli came out and said it Wednesday. Asked if he thought Culpepper would start, Marinelli simply said: "Yes."

And so, the question now is purely how well Culpepper will play - and if backup Drew Stanton will still play the same type of role he did in Sunday's 38-14 loss to Jacksonville.

After Culpepper signed last week, Marinelli tried to keep his plans under wraps. But most people figured Culpepper would start because Dan Orlovsky had a broken thumb and Stanton, who had little practice time in two years because of injuries, wasn't ready.

And sure enough, Culpepper started against the Jaguars. He was about what you would expect - inconsistent, with flashes of his cannon right arm.

His first pass was behind wide receiver Calvin Johnson. His second pass was intercepted. But he made a couple of big plays, too.

"That's why it was so good to play him last week, in my mind," Marinelli said. "He got one under his belt right now. He's coming out here, and he's just a worker, man. I mean, you can see that. Every day he's out here, he's just getting better and better faster. ...

"I would expect every day and every week really a major step from him."

Culpepper said he has done extra work with the receivers so they can get their timing down.

"I try to learn from my mistakes, just try to get better, just try to get more acclimated with the whole system," Culpepper said. "I'm just trying to move forward every day. Everything I can, every meeting, every snap in practice, I'm just trying to get a little bit better. The more reps I get, I will get better. I can say that."

Last week, the Lions cited the precedent of Vinny Testaverde, who signed with Carolina last year, started four days later and beat Arizona, 25-10. Testaverde, 43, went 20-for-33 for 206 yards and a touchdown.

Now let's take the example a step further. How much did Testaverde progress the next week? He went 12-for-20 for 82 yards with an interception, and he left the game at halftime with an Achilles injury. The Panthers lost to Indianapolis, 31-7.

That said ...

"There's no doubt you get more comfortable," Carolina coach John Fox said in a conference call with Detroit reporters. "This game's about playing fast. I don't care what position you play.

"I know Daunte will be further along this week than he was a week ago. He's not that 44-year-old guy. He'll be much more comfortable I'm sure in the offense this week than he was last week and in weeks to come."

Fox said it was obvious the Lions weren't using their whole playbook against the Jaguars. Culpepper couldn't learn everything in a week. Stanton relieved him in a goal-line situation and threw a touchdown pass.

Could Culpepper handle the goal line this week?

"I mean, I don't know," Culpepper said. "I haven't had any reps at it. It doesn't matter really. We got down there. We got the points. That's all that matters."

Culpepper said he and Stanton were splitting the reps at about the same rate they did last week, both preparing to play. The Lions usually work on their goal-line package on Fridays.

Against the Jaguars, Culpepper had to wear two armbands with the plays on them. He had to check them in each huddle.

Will he wear both armbands again this Sunday?

"I don't know," Culpepper said, smiling. "We'll have to wait and see about that. We haven't discussed it yet."

One thing is certain, though: Culpepper will continue to take shots downfield for Johnson. Culpepper still has a cannon for an arm, and the Lions want to get the ball to Johnson, who ranks fifth in the NFL receiving yards (774) but only 31st in receptions (39).

Johnson ranks first in average yards per catch (19.8) among players with more than 30 catches. He is third in catches of 20 yards or more (12) and tied for second in catches of 40 yards or more (five).

When Johnson gets the ball, good things happen.

"It makes you feel good to air it out a little bit," Culpepper said. "Hopefully we can connect on many more of those."

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