The Detroit Lions have declared an open competition for every position on the team. “Right now it’s the land of opportunity,” newly-appointed offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.
Here are Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz’s comments on the depth chart, “You’re going to earn your spot based on how you perform.’ We probably won’t even really get into depth charts until we get near the first preseason game.”
New coaches in place, the holdover players have a chance at redemption or risk being cut. Lions players from the 2008 winless team have to prove they can handle a new system, one that requires bigger, stronger players.
While all positions are up for grabs, none is more important than the Lions starting quarterback battle.
Daunte Culpepper is a veteran of Linehan’s system from their days together in Minnesota. He had monster years with Linehan; he averaged over 4,000 yards and 82 total passing touchdowns in their three seasons together.
Culpepper returned from an early retirement caused by injuries and inconsistent play while his return to the NFL has been met with a sense of optimism after losing 30 pounds. It remains to be seen if Culpepper can perform like his former self at age 32.
Culpepper’s main competition will come for the No. 1 overall pick, Matthew Stafford, while he is slated to start the season as the starter one snap could alter those plans.
If Detroit’s season wavers quickly, fans will be awaiting the start of the Stafford era regardless if he’s prepared or not.
Stafford owns elite arm strength, moxie, and a love for the game, but his accuracy has been called into question. It is not a problem in the eyes of Linehan.
He is a gunslinger in the mold of Brett Favre or Jay Cutler; a gunslinger’s completion percentage is inferior to a West Coast quarterback with elevated interception totals. They often win football games in exciting fashion and lose them in gut-wrenching defeats.
At Southern Mississippi, Farve set a school record with a measly 53.0 percent completion and his career NFL completion percentages have been between 56.0- 66.5 percent.
Stafford’s best collegiate completion percentage, 61.4 percent, was far higher than Favre’s. Completion percentages do not always define a quarterback though, their leadership and win totals do.
Dan Marino, one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time, topped 60 percent in only five of his 12 seasons.
Stafford had 2,523 passing yards as a sophomore and 3,459 passing yards as a junior racking up 936 more yards in only 35 more passing attempts. Stafford never threw more than 13 interceptions in a season.
He started as a true freshman in a conference that hailed the BCS National Champion in each of Stafford’s three seasons.
His offensive line play contributed to lower numbers than what NFL teams would have preferred, though Georgia's line suffered many injuries in Stafford’s last season and no lineman had more than one year of experience.
Stafford, like every other potential first round quarterback in recent history, draws comparisons to Peyton Manning, who was also a No. 1 overall selection.
Manning was asked about when Stafford should start,” With [Matthew] Stafford, I think you throw him in there right away. I'll say this, there's no way I could have played as well as I did in my second year if I hadn't played that first year.”
Eli Manning, Peyton’s brother and another No. 1 overall choice, agreed with his brother stating there is only so much you can learn from a veteran quarterback on the sidelines, you need to feel the speed of the game.
While every rookie quarterback seems to get compared to Peyton Manning, should other NFL teams listen to him and start their rookie quarterbacks immediately?
It would seem to be a case-by-case basis and while Detroit has talented skill players like Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith and Brandon Pettigrew. But the offensive line needs serious help.
If Detroit signs free-agent left tackle Levi Jones, a productive 29-year-old lineman when healthy, Stafford may have the protection required to succeed.
It would not be wise to put at risk a franchise quarterback with $41.7 million guaranteed, unless you had faith the offensive line can protect him.
Only Stafford’s play will determine the starter and while Culpepper has a considerable advantage knowing Linehan and having years of experience.
At this point in his career, Culpepper lacks the physical tools necessary to be anything more than a solid NFL starter. Stafford, however, has the potential to be a great NFL quarterback if he can harness his talent and improve with coaching.
This battle will likely come down to performance in training camp and preseason games. Only time will tell who will begin the 2009 season.