Making the call


And the winner is . . .

Johnnie Lee Higgins.

He’ll return punts Sunday against the Detroit Lions, with Chris Carr handling kickoff returns.

“See, I gave you one of three,” Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said after declining to make public his choices for quarterback (Daunte Culpepper or Josh McCown) and center (Jake Grove or Jeremy Newberry).

Kiffin said he may have answers on both positions Wednesday. He did say the quarterbacks had been told, but both dodged the question. McCown played it coy, answering questions with a question and was agreeable on other topics.

Said Culpepper, “I wouldn’t lie to you . . . don’t even bother.”

Wide receiver Mike Williams said he will wait like everyone else.

“I don’t know about the quarterback situation,” Williams said. “I say that with all honesty.”

More news and notes:

— Defensive tackle Warren Sapp was involved in what appeared to be a serious conversation with Daunte Culpepper heading off the practice field. Culpepper’s body language suggested he hadn’t received good news.

Or they could have been talking about something not even related to the job of starting quarterback . . . maybe it’s best to let Kiffin or one of the quarterbacks spill it.

— McCown remembered getting the news from Dennis Green on the Saturday before a Week 10 game against Carolina that Shaun King would replace him as the starter. It never made much sense to McCown, Green keeping it to himself all week that deep into the regular season.

He believes this situation is different.

“I guess I can see right now the point of it,” McCown said. “We might get an advantage. But the other thing is, for (Detroit), they know me well enough they can prepare for Daunte all week and if they got me they’d probably be OK.”

It’s also true that the Lions prepared for Culpepper plenty of times during NFC North games, although the Lions defense has changed a great deal since 2004. Lions coach Rod Marinelli is familiar with Culpepper from Tampa Bay-Minnesota games.

“I wouldn’t say, `If you ain’t cheating you ain’t trying,’ but you try to get every edge you can in this business, that’s for sure,” McCown said.

— The Raiders went through drills at a pedestrian pace, but perhaps built up to something more akin to regular-season spirit once team sessions began and the media was out of sight.

“I said to (offensive coordinator) Greg Knapp about 30 minutes through practice, I could feel them, I could feel the players a little differently,” Kiffin said. “It made our job a little easier. You weren’t prying all the time to get them to the next drill, to get them back in the huddle.”

— The highlight during the media session of practice came when linebackers coach Don Martindale, standing in the middle of the field at the 20-yard line, arched a pass toward a trash can standing at the right corner of the goal line and put the ball dead center, raising his arms in triumph.

— Kiffin said he needed to see the film to be sure, but believed defensive tackle Gerard Warren had his best practice as a Raider.

— The Raiders added linebacker Jon Alston and tight end Dave Fells to the practice squad. Alston, a linebacker from Stanford noted for his speed, was a third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams last year and somewhat of a surprise cut.

He said he received a call from Kiffin asking him to join the Raiders, picking Oakland over two other opportunities.

Fells made the Atlanta Falcons last season as an undrafted free agent from U.C. Davis. Raiders assistant coaches Knapp and Tom Cable were in Atlanta last season.

— If the Raiders and JaMarcus Russell can ever get together on the best way to pay out a contract befitting the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the salary cap should not be a problem. Oakland is around $15 million under the cap, plenty of room to make a deal.

— The cap has gone so high the Raiders are $15 million under despite having to account for $11,163,971 worth of “dead money” on the contracts of Randy Moss ($4,042,500), Brad Badger ($1,431,420), Bobby Hamilton ($1,260,000), Aaron Brooks ($1,000,000), Danny Clark ($861,000), Jarrod Cooper ($752,400), Tyrone Poole ($625,000), Donovin Darius ($600,000) and Zack Crockett ($591,651).

— The Raiders are out $610,000 in signing bonus cash to Quentin Moses, but only $152,500 counts toward the cap. June 1 cuts accelerate and are due immediately. Moses’ figure was prorated over four years.

— The top 10 cap figures on the 2007 Raiders roster: Warren Sapp ($6,397,000), Robert Gallery ($5,472,428), LaMont Jordan ($5,401,440), Michael Huff ($4,803,360), Derrick Burgess ($4,000,480), Barry Sims ($3,988,576), Daunte Culpepper ($3,200,000), Terdell Sands ($3,200,000), Jerry Porter ($3,152,880) and Stuart Schweigert ($2,332,428).


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer

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