Lions Camp: Players To Watch, Battles, & More

Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper (AP)

With less than a week remaining before the Detroit Lions begin training camp, we provide analysis on what players to watch, position battles, and much more.

PLAYERS TO WATCH DURING TRAINING CAMP:

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper: Coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season, the Lions used the No. 1 overall pick in the draft on a new franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford. But Culpepper will have every opportunity and motivation to hold off the rookie in training camp.

The Lions say they won't play Stafford until he's ready and the best quarterback. They want to make sure they develop him the right way, and Culpepper might give them the luxury to let him sit and learn.

More on Stafford

Long before he landed the Lions' head coaching job, Jim Schwartz had heard a lot about the quarterback he would pick No. 1 overall in the NFL draft: Matthew Stafford.

Schwartz used to be Tennessee's defensive coordinator. Dowell Loggains, the Titans' administrative assistant/coaching, had played for Randy Allen at Abilene Cooper High, before Allen went to coach Highland Park High.

Loggains had seen Stafford play at Highland Park.

"He and Jim Schwartz would spend time visiting with each other and talking in the office," Allen said. "And, of course, Dowell was talking up Matthew, not knowing that Jim Schwartz would get the head job at Detroit."

After Schwartz landed the Lions job and started vetting candidates for the No. 1 pick, he asked friend and former Dallas personnel executive Gil Brandt, who lives near Highland Park High, to put him in touch with Allen.

"Jim called me, and he wanted to know about Matthew," Allen said. "How many times had he led our team to victories in the last two minutes when we were behind? So I told him about all the games, and he wanted video."

Highland Park High sent the video to the Lions, and they not only evaluated it, they used it to quiz Stafford. After the draft, Schwartz brought up Stafford's ability to recall those high school games in detail.

"It was fun to look back at it," Stafford said. "I really didn't even know they were going to have it, and Coach Schwartz was watching it, and I was like, 'Wow.' And I started remembering every play, and it was kind of weird."

During the offseason program, Culpepper looked much better than he did last year, when he came out of semiretirement and joined the Lions midseason. He's fighting to earn another contract somewhere in the NFL. He has lost 35 pounds. He is healthy. And he is reuniting with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, with whom he had his best years in Minnesota.

Defensive end Cliff Avril: A third-round pick last year, Avril showed a lot of potential as a rookie. He showed the athleticism to be a speed rusher off the edge, though he showed he still needs to work on a more explosive first step.

Under former coach Rod Marinelli, the Lions were a Tampa-Two team. They played a rigid system and didn't like to blitz. New coach Jim Schwartz likes multidimensional players, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham loves to attack.

After Cunningham came aboard, he talked about using Avril the way the Steelers use James Harrison. So it should be interesting to see how the Lions use Avril.

Safety Louis Delmas: The Lions' secondary intercepted only one pass last season and didn't distinguish itself in run defense, either. Most of the unit has been replaced, and Delmas, the first pick of the second round, might be the most interesting addition.

The rookie out of Western Michigan showed up at rookie camp challenging Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick, saying he would be the first to pick him off. Delmas didn't back down when the veterans arrived, either. He took on all comers.

More impressive than the bravado, though, was the intelligence. Schwartz said Delmas picked up the defense as quickly as any player he had ever seen in the secondary.

Positional battle: It comes back to quarterback. Though this team needs help in many areas, it's not going to take a real step forward until it solves the quarterback issue. And though Stafford ultimately might benefit from sitting behind Culpepper, he isn't going to sit quietly.

Stafford was as advertised physically in the offseason, showing off his strong arm. But what was more impressive was how quickly he picked up the offense. Teammates raved about how he looked.

If Stafford and Culpepper can stage a true competition, the Lions will be much better for it. For years, the Lions haven't had one quarterback. It would show some progress if they actually had two.

CAMP CALENDAR: First practice Aug. 1. Ford Field practice Aug. 8. Break camp Aug. 26.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

  • The Lions traded wide receiver Ronald Curry to St. Louis for defensive end Orien Harris. Curry became expendable in June when the Lions traded safety Gerald Alexander to Jacksonville for wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, who is expected to play in the slot. Harris, 26, is listed at 6-feet-3, 300 pounds. He brings the size the Lions have been looking to add to their defensive front. In three NFL seasons, he has bounced from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to New Orleans to Cincinnati to St. Louis and now to Detroit. But he has played only 16 NFL games - two for the Browns in 2006 and 14 for the Bengals last season.
  • Lions defensive end Dewayne White will donate $1,000 for every sack he makes during the 2009 season to benefit urban youth. After-School All-Stars (ASAS) is the leading national provider of high quality, comprehensive, school-based after-school programs that include academic support, enrichment and health and fitness activities. ASAS currently serves 72,000 youth in 14 cities. In Detroit, a portion of the funding benefits the Michigan After School Partnership. The organization's mission is to help keep children safe and help them succeed in school and in life.
  • The Lions have signed or reached agreements with four draft picks: Stafford, running back Aaron Brown (sixth round), linebacker Zack Follett (seventh) and tight end Dan Gronkowski (seventh). With Stafford signed, no major holdouts are expected in training camp.
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wouldn't say a big Lions fan, but I support them. My dad and I actually went to the last game that they won when they played Kansas City. I'm a Redskins fan because I like Clinton Portis. They also have Jason Campbell and that defense. The Lions -- they're coming along -- they have my good old friend Brandon Pettigrew. So hopefully he can put in a little work and they can win a game or two. They have some things that are looking up. If they go to the Super Bowl, I'll be there (laughs). I'll definitely be there." - Barry Sanders Jr., son of Lions great Barry Sanders, to Newson6.com.

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