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New Lions QB Stafford, TE Pettigrew aim to turn around boo-birds

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew were booed by Detroit Lions fans before they even arrived in town Sunday.

But the quarterback and tight end both expect that they will be able to win over a frustrated fan base that wanted draft picks to help a defense that was the main cause of the first 0-16 season in NFL history.

"I'm a competitive guy, and I'm excited about going to Detroit," said Stafford, the first overall pick, at a press conference at the team's practice facility. "I know there were a lot of people that might have been scared away by an 0-16 team, but I can't wait to take on that challenge."

Traditionally, even highly drafted quarterbacks have had to wait for their first chance at a starting job, but that changed last year when Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco led their teams to the playoffs as rookies. Ryan and Flacco both played in college as fifth-year seniors, while Stafford didn't redshirt and left Georgia after his junior year. But he doesn't believe that will be a problem.

"I got a lot of experience at Georgia -- I started a lot of games," he said. "Those other guys played as seniors, but I started as a freshman, so I've had a lot of game time."

That doesn't mean Stafford expects to sweep veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper aside before the Lions' Sept. 13 season opener in New Orleans, but he hasn't resigned himself to clipboard duty, either.

"I want to play as soon as I can -- whether that's Game 1, Game 4 or Game 8," Stafford said. "I'm going to fight like heck for the job, but if they don't feel like I'm ready, I'll accept that and keep working."

Lions coach Jim Schwartz isn't going to rush Stafford but reiterated his happiness with the pick.

"I said when I got here that we needed to find a replacement for Bobby Layne, but that didn't mean we went into the draft committed to take a quarterback at No. 1," Schwartz said. "This was a long process, with a lot of steps. We've broken down every snap he took in college, and we've even looked at his high-school tapes. We've looked into his background and we've seen him in social situations. Matthew jumped through every hoop we put in front of him."

When Stafford does get on the field, he'll be happy to have two athletic receivers in Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson -- two players he has seen firsthand.

"I played against Calvin Johnson -- it was my freshman year and his last year at Georgia Tech -- and he can do everything," Stafford said. "Then I played against Brandon a year ago, and he's a great player, too."

Stafford was immediately unpopular at the Lions' draft party because fans wanted Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. When Pettigrew was announced at No. 20, the boos were just as loud -- something he said he understands.

"The fans here want to win, and I think I'm going to be able to help them do that," he said. "They might not have been thrilled at first, but that just means I'll have to show them what kind of player I really am."

Schwartz doesn't believe that will be a problem.

"Brandon is a big, physical, point-of-attack blocker in the run game, and he's a big target in the passing game," Schwartz said. "This is a player with a skill set that is NFL-ready right now. He immediately helps our front seven."

The Lions' third first-day pick had the shortest physical trip to Detroit but the longest life journey. Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas, taken with the first pick of the second round, grew up in a poor part of Miami and credits sports with keeping him out of trouble.

"I don't play football just because I like it -- I play it because it's the only reason I'm here today," Delmas said. "If not for my high-school coach getting me out of danger and away from the bad influences on the street, I could have gone the wrong path in life.

"I've had a lot of bad cards dealt to me in life, and football was the first time I ever got any good ones."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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