It seems clearer that Daunte Culpepper will start at quarterback Sunday against Pittsburgh, even though the Lions are saying little about the situation.
Matthew Stafford missed his second consecutive practice Thursday because of a right knee injury. He didn't rule himself out of Sunday's game, but he said he had not been running.
"They really haven't had me doing too much," Stafford said. "They're just trying to get the swelling out and all that."
Coach Jim Schwartz declined to comment.
Stafford said he was staying late and watching extra film, trying to take as many mental reps as he could to prepare for Pittsburgh, with Culpepper and No. 3 QB Drew Stanton taking the real reps.
But even if Stafford returns to practice Friday, would that be enough for the rookie to face the Super Bowl champions?
"Well, I'm not really going to comment on that at all," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "Jim can talk about that. But I think the biggest thing is, we've got to get all three quarterbacks ready for a potential role on Sunday, and so that's where we're a little bit different from where we were a week ago."
Culpepper declined to talk to reporters, but he has been aching for an opportunity. He lost more than 30 pounds in the offseason, trying to show he could play the way he did before suffering a serious knee injury in 2005.
"We have all the confidence in the world if we called on Daunte to play, and we said that from the beginning regardless of where we're at," Linehan said.
The question is whether the Lions offense would become more conservative with Culpepper under center. Culpepper lost the quarterback competition even though he made fewer mistakes than Stafford in the preseason, apparently because he didn't make as many big plays.
Culpepper didn't throw an interception in three exhibitions; Stafford threw four interceptions in four exhibitions. Culpepper completed 64.7 percent of his passes; Stafford 54.5 percent. Culpepper's passer rating was 89.6; Stafford's was 52.8.
But Stafford completed seven passes of 19 yards or more; Culpepper two. The rookie completed three passes of at least 37 yards; Culpepper none. Stafford threw for 389 yards; Culpepper 194. That doesn't take into account that Stafford had four passes dropped and a 34-yard touchdown pass called back because of a penalty.
"I think Daunte played the preseason exactly how we wanted him to play," Linehan said Thursday. "He was very efficient, did a lot of things, wasn't doing things that were going to hinder or hurt us, and he was playing winning football."
Linehan was Minnesota's offensive coordinator when Culpepper had the best years of his career with the Vikings, throwing for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns and posting a 110.9 passer rating in 2004.
"If he were to play or Matt played Sunday or whatever, I've seen him operate on Sundays," Linehan said. "He does a nice job. He's a great player."
- WR Calvin Johnson returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of a thigh injury. He was listed as limited but is expected to play.
- RT Gosder Cherilus returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of a shoulder injury. He was listed as limited but is expected to play.
- DT Sammie Hill did not practice Wednesday and Thursday because of an ankle injury. He missed Sunday's game and is not expected to play this week.
- DE Dewayne White did not practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a hamstring injury. He missed Sunday's game and is not expected to play this week.
- S Kalvin Pearson returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday because of a quad injury. He was listed as limited.
- S Ko Simpson did not practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a hamstring injury. His status is uncertain.
- LB Ernie Sims was limited Wednesday and Thursday because of a shoulder injury. He left Sunday's game and didn't play the previous week, but he is expected to play this week.
- DT Grady Jackson was listed as limited Wednesday and did not practice Thursday, but that has been the routine for the 36-year-old vet who had offseason knee surgery.