Lions QB Stafford gets rookie treatment, praise from veterans

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matt Stafford has gotten the hazing this week that any No. 1 pick would expect from his veteran teammates.

The Detroit Lions quarterback also has gotten something more important: their respect.

"I've never been on a team where we drafted a quarterback in the first round, much less with the first pick," defensive end Eric Hicks said. "So far, he's more than lived up to the hype -- he's been very impressive."

That didn't stop Hicks from getting in one verbal shot on his newly wealthy quarterback. After chasing Stafford on a bootleg, Hicks called over to the rookie and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan: "Keep running like that. I'm picking up the hundred-dollar bills that are falling out of your pockets."

Hicks was happy to see Stafford took the teasing well.

"Scott was cracking up and Matt laughed," Hicks said. "That's what you want to see."

Indeed, Stafford used the incident as an example of how well he has been treated by the team during his first three-day session of organized team activities.

"The veterans have been very welcoming. They are going to greet anyone who wants to be here and wants to work hard with open arms," he said. "They are ahead of the rookies because they've had the other OTAs, but I feel very comfortable with the offense - at least what we've put in so far -- after the rookie camp and a lot of studying."

Stafford said he hasn't had any problems with the two veterans who he is battling for the starting spot, Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton.

"Daunte has been great. He's been doing this for a long time and I'm learning a lot from him, and Drew's been helping me as well," Stafford said. "It helps that we did a lot of the same things at Georgia, so as long as I understand the play, I usually get the underlying concepts."

Stafford's arrival has caused a dramatic improvement in Culpepper's and Stanton's play, a development that doesn't surprise Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

"Of course," he answered with a smile. "Any time you have a high draft pick enter the equation at any position, that's going to happen. It changes the dynamic, because every player in the locker room knows where he was drafted and why, so they have to pick up their game."

Schwartz juggled the quarterback rotation throughout the three-day camp, but said it wasn't a move designed for those players.

"We did that with every position group," he said. "I've been saying all along that this is an entirely open competition and that we're going to play the guys that show us the most. You can't do that if you've already sorted the team into groups in May."

Of course, Schwartz acknowledges that is a lot easier with a team coming off the first 0-16 season in league history.

"We aren't talking about a team that went deep into the postseason last year," he said. "In a situation like that, you don't want to upset the apple cart. In this situation, upsetting the apple cart is exactly what I'm trying to do."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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