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Lions QB Stafford Looks Forward To Pre-Season Game

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Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions. (credit: Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions. (credit: Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer

DETROIT (AP) — Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has had his way with the Lions’ secondary during training camp, picking it apart with an assortment of options led by All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson.

Stafford is looking forward to facing someone else.

He will get a shot when the Lions (No. 11 in the AP Pro32) play the Cleveland Browns (No. 30 in the AP Pro 32) Friday night in the first preseason game for both teams.

“It’s nice to get a break from practicing against your teammates,” Stafford said. “It’s a chance to get even more in sync to get ready for Week 1.”

Stafford is going into his fourth NFL season without rehabbing an injury in the offseason for the first time since his rookie year.

His top five receiving targets — Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young along with tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler — are all healthy and ready to roll in the Motor City.

The running backs projected to provide balance, Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, are on the mend. Best hasn’t been cleared for contact after having two concussions last season. Leshoure’s development has been stunted by a nagging hamstring injury.

That leaves oft-injured Kevin Smith as the team’s No. 1 running back, but coach Jim Schwartz said he doesn’t plan to play Smith sparingly in the preseason in the hopes of keeping him healthy.

“You can’t go into any game saying you’re going to be careful with somebody,” Schwartz said. “It’s football.”

Stafford survived a season without a significant injury last year after being limited to 13 games combined over his first two NFL seasons.

He threw for 5,000-plus yards and 41 touchdowns last year to lift into the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. The 24-year-old Stafford with a baby face and a big-time arm suddenly seems like a seasoned veteran on the field.

“He might even shave twice a week now,” Schwartz joked. “When he got that big signing bonus, he didn’t spend much on razors.”

Cleveland attempted to give its offense, which ranked 30th in scoring last season, a boost by moving up to draft running Trent Richardson No. 3 overall and taking quarter Brandon Weeden 22nd overall.

The Browns, though, will only get to see one of their first-round rookies make his pro debut in Detroit.

Weeden will start against the Lions, but Richardson won’t play because he had surgery on his left knee and is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by Montario Hardesty.

“I don’t know about how much he’s going to miss,” Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. “But we’re hopeful he’ll be back quickly.”

It didn’t take long for Weeden to beat out Colt McCoy, who is 6-15 as a starter, to be the team’s No. 1 QB.

“I’m excited about it,” Weeden said. “I’ve really put in a lot of work, a lot of studying. I think I’ve come a long way.

“My job is to get this team better to start winning games on Friday.”

Weeden, who turns 29 in two months, is a former minor league baseball player.

Stafford said playing professional sports previously will help Weeden, but nothing could truly prepare him for playing in the league.

“You prepare yourself as much as you can, but you have to learn on the fly,” Stafford said.

Both teams have had to learn how to deal with distractions lately.

The Lions endured a slew of unwanted publicity during the offseason because of arrests, leading to Leshoure being suspended for the first two games and a likely suspension looming for defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

The Browns are also bracing for potential suspensions that could put promising cornerback Joe Haden on the sideline if he failed a drug test and take linebacker Scott Fujita out of the lineup for his role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.

New owner Jimmy Haslam III is trying to stay calm and collected amid the chaos in Cleveland.

“We’re not going to panic and not do the right things to bring a winner to Cleveland over the long period of time,” Haslam said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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