The Lions' quarterback competition is so tight that coach Jim Schwartz didn't even use the word "start" before the exhibition opener. He said only that the Lions would "begin the game" with Daunte Culpepper and that Matthew Stafford would come in second.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Jon Jansen vs. Gosder Cherilus at starting right tackle. Cherilus, a 2008 first-round pick, seems to have a solid hold on the job. But Jansen, a proud 10-year vet, is out to prove he's still got it and wants to challenge him. Jansen is willing to help tutor Cherilus, though. For example, he gave him a pointer on a particular play recently. "And when I used it, you know, it was better," Cherilus said. "That's the kind of guy he is, and that's who we are as a group."
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: The rash of injuries has kept some battles from playing out. It has given some young players opportunities to showcase themselves, but while some have taken advantage, others have not. Rookie Dan Gronkowski has put pressure on veteran Casey Fitzsimmons for a backup receiving tight end job, catching balls while Fitzsimmons has been out with an ankle injury. But with the top receivers out, players like Keary Colbert and Adam Jennings have hurt their causes by dropping too many passes.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Rookie running back Aaron Brown has shown his blazing speed in practice, and he showed his athleticism in the exhibition opener. He not only had a 32-yard touchdown run and a 45-yard touchdown catch-and-run, but he celebrated the second score with a cartwheel and back flip in the end zone. Still, he needs to work on his blocking and cut down on mistakes. He took a penalty on a punt, went the wrong way on a screen and drew a 15-yard flag for his highlight-reel celebration.
"Don't read anything into it," Schwartz said. "It's not like somebody's ahead of somebody on the depth chart."
Schwartz said Stafford likely would start the second exhibition, and he refused to go any further than that. Asked if who starts the third exhibition would be most meaningful, he said no.
Asked when we could read something into something, he said: "I don't know yet. We're not there yet."
Culpepper, the proud veteran, looks better than he has since he suffered a severe knee injury in 2005. He's healthy, in shape and knows the offense. In the exhibition opener against Atlanta, he went 5-for-6 for 41 yards and scrambled three times for 12 yards.
"Definitely I feel stronger," Culpepper said. "My feet, my legs, I feel I've finally gotten them back to be the player I want to be and I feel comfortable."
But Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, looks and acts nothing like a rookie. He went 7-for-14 for 114 yards in the exhibition opener, and his stats could have looked much better had wide receiver Keary Colbert not flubbed three catchable passes.
The most impressive part of his debut was how he shrugged off Colbert's errors and a big gaffe of his own. With a blitzing defender in his face, he forced a pass that was intercepted and returned 42 yards for a touchdown. Then he bounced back and led an 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass.
"At least it was a quick and painless one," Stafford said, smiling. "It was a touchdown for them right away. I could get back out there and try to redeem myself."
Stafford is only 21, but he's confident and carries himself like a starting NFL quarterback
"That's part of his personality," Schwartz said. "That's one of the reasons we drafted him. He's not skittish. He's not afraid. He's not afraid to go back out and put himself out there.
Culpepper said when he thinks about the competition, he thinks about three D's: the debate (he's not getting involved), the decision (it's not up to him) and determination (he's in it to win it).
But while he won't go out of his way to praise Stafford, he knows what he's up against.
"Obviously he's a talented player," Culpepper said, "and he's going to be really good in this league for a long time."
INJURY REPORT: Three players have injuries coach Jim Schwartz classifies as beyond day-to-day: TE Casey Fitzsimmons (ankle), CB Keith Smith (groin) and S Louis Bullocks (knee). But several other players have missed a significant amount of practice time, and the Lions held out 16 players in the exhibition opener. Schwartz said more than half would have played in a regular-season game, but he is erring on the side of caution. The list includes receivers Calvin Johnson (thumb), Bryant Johnson (flesh wounds), Dennis Northcutt (thumb) and John Standeford (hamstring); safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Marquand Manuel (calf); linebackers Zack Follett (shoulder) and Jordon Dizon (hamstring); TE Brandon Pettigrew (thigh); and RB Maurice Morris (hamstring).