ALLEN PARK, MICH. (AP) - For one weekend, Jim Schwartz gets to stop worrying about the NFL draft and be a coach again.
The rookie head coach and the first coach in history to face rebuilding a 0-16 team said he was going to force himself to not get too excited or too depressed about anything he saw Friday afternoon.
“In the first practice, everyone is rusty, everyone is sloppy and the tempo is always out of control,” Schwartz said. “Basically, if you can keep from getting anyone killed on the first day, you are doing well. We’ll take a hard look at this weekend as a whole, but we can’t put too much weight on today.”
The Lions are only a week away from making the first overall pick in the draft, but Schwartz wasn’t going to discuss that Friday.
“I’m going to leave all of that where it is right now,” he said. “Our scouts and our front office are working hard, and I’ll get back to it after we’re done here.”
Two of his veterans _ the ones most likely to be affected by Detroit’s No. 1 pick _ were happy to get away from the draft talk and join their new coach on the field for his first minicamp.
Most speculation has settled on four players: Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, and offensive tackles Jason Smith of Baylor and Eugene Monroe of Virginia. Curry would be expected to play middle linebacker, where Detroit has no established starter, but the other three would be competing with longtime veterans.
Stafford would battle Daunte Culpepper for the job, while picking a tackle at No. 1 would probably mean that Jeff Backus would move to left guard after eight years as Detroit’s left tackle. Both Culpepper and Backus seemed unruffled by the possibilities, though.
“As of right now, no one has mentioned guard to me at all, and I consider myself a left tackle,” Backus said. “Obviously, that’s my preference, but if they need me to play guard, I’ll play guard. It would be an adjustment _ it is a position I’ve never played _ but I think I’ve got enough NFL experience to handle it.
“That spot has been a revolving door for us since I got here. I never expected that I’d be the one to fill it, but who knows what will happen.”
Culpepper has only been a Lion since the middle of last season, so he doesn’t have the claim on his position that Backus does. He still isn’t worrying about the possibility of battling Stafford.
“My mind-set is that the draft doesn’t have anything to do with me,” he said. “I have no say in it, and I’m not going to worry about it. My only goal is to get ready to play.”
Even if the Lions do take Stafford, Culpepper has experience in the situation. He was in Oakland when the Raiders took JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007. Russell missed all of training camp in a holdout and didn’t take the starting job until Culpepper had sustained a season-ending hamstring injury.
“That went fine, because I feel like I can compete for a job and be a mentor at the same time,” he said. “JaMarcus and I are still pretty good friends.”
Last season, Culpepper was out of football before the Lions came calling, and he acknowledged it showed in his size.
“I was probably about 290 (pounds) when I came here last year,” he said. “When you’re retired, you don’t pay a lot of attention to what you’re eating or how you are working out.”
That has changed in the offseason, with Culpepper saying Friday he weighed about 260 pounds, the lowest of his career.
“I was 266 my first year as a starter, and I’m below that now,” he said. “I feel great right now, but I still think I can get into better shape. I don’t have a number in mind. It is just about the way I feel.”
Culpepper’s conditioning definitely caught his new coach’s eye.
“You just have to look at Daunte to see his commitment,” Schwartz said. “We’re really proud of the work he’s done and the shape he’s in.”
Culpepper is also excited about being reunited with Detroit’s new offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan. Culpepper had the best seasons of his career while Linehan had the same role with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but he and I have always clicked,” Culpepper said. “His offense has just always made sense to me, and I feel like we can do great things together, just like we did in 2004.”
After several years of injuries and changing teams, Culpepper also thinks he’ll benefit from being in the same system for an entire season.
“I haven’t been through an entire offseason program with a team in three or four years now,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m so happy _ it’s good to be out here in March and April instead of looking for a job.”