ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Daunte Culpepper dropped back and heaved a pass perfectly to Calvin Johnson, setting up a short touchdown strike in a 2-minute drill.

Matthew Stafford saw the sequence and was simply unfazed.

“Everybody is going to make plays. Daunte is a great player, and so is Calvin,” Stafford said Wednesday, midway through the Detroit Lions’ mandatory minicamp. “That just motivates you to do well.”

Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has steadfastly stuck with what he has said since Stafford was taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, insisting that the best players will be on the field when the Lions open the season Sept. 13 at New Orleans.

Stafford, meanwhile, is sticking to his mindset that he’s going to earn the job to take the first regular-season snap.

“Absolutely. That’s how you have to do it,” Stafford said. “You have to prepare every week, even if you’re third string, that you’re going to start.”


Schwartz refuses to be swayed by a spectacular play or practice, saying he will evaluate the quarterbacks on their body of work.

Culpepper’s body is giving him a chance to restore the glory he enjoyed as Minnesota Viking. The 6-foot-4 QB says he weighs 260 pounds, considerably less than last year, when he played in five games for Detroit.

“This is the first time I’ve been 100 percent going into camp since 2004,” he said, referring to the season in which he threw 39 TDs for the Vikings. “I feel great.”

Culpepper couldn’t have felt fabulous when the Lions drafted Stafford out of Georgia, but he didn’t make waves in his first public comments about the situation.

“You’ve got to understand that my job is to be the best player I can be,” he said Tuesday. “That’s my focus right now – to be better than I’ve ever been.”

If the 32-year-old Culpepper is at his best, the Lions will have a good problem when they decide who will lead their offense after becoming the NFL’s first 0-16 team.


Culpepper was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback in Minnesota before a knee injury stunted his career in 2005 and limited him to seven games. He was largely lackluster in 15 starts spread out over the previous three seasons in Detroit, Miami and Oakland. But he sounds confident about his chances to revive his career.

“My goal is to be the quarterback of this team this year and win the division,” he said.

The Lions didn’t sign Stafford to a six-year contract worth as much as $78 million with $41.7 million in guarantees to hold a clipboard, but they don’t want to just give him the job.

It will be interesting, though, to find out how patient the team ends up being with their prized pick.

The Lions and their fans are desperately hoping Stafford can do what Joey Harrington, Andre Ware, Chuck Long and many others couldn’t for a franchise with one Pro Bowl QB and one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.

Schwartz seems to think he’ll end up making a win-win decision.


“I think Daunte has put himself in a really good spot with his commitment to, No. 1, losing weight, and then the offseason program,” Schwartz said. “He was a marquee player in the league a few years ago. He’s put the rest of the league on notice that he’s back.

“We’ve got a lot of talent at that position. We have a first-round draft pick, a second-round draft pick (Stanton) and a former MVP candidate.”

Johnson figures he can’t lose when it comes time for the team to pick the player who is going to throw him the ball.

“Stafford looks great. He’s learning the offense real fast,” Johnson said. “Daunte has the playbook down, too, and he looks good. I’m looking forward to him making some of these throws on Sundays.”

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