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Is Burgess worth a nickel?

Derrick Burgess missed practice for the third straight day, but coach Lane Kiffin did not rule out the possibility of using his best pass rusher in a limited role.

“If we can push him to where he can go obviously he’s of great value to us, even if it’s in a limited role, where some players may not be,” Kiffin said. “If he can just go to where he can be just on third downs, he’s of value to us. So we’re going to keep trying to push and see if we can get him out there.”

Burgess was listed as “questionable,” meaning there’s a 50-50 chance he could play. In theory, that means he is more likely to play than Josh McCown, listed as doubtful last Friday, was against Denver.

Kiffin was asked if it made sense to put a guy on the field whose strengths are his explosiveness and speed, when those two areas could be adversely affected by a calf injury. Kiffin said that as an every-down player, Burgess might be able to push through fewer plays.

Burgess wasn’t available for comment and made it clear Wednesday he wasn’t going to be discussing injuries with anybody.

You wonder if there is a tug-of-war going on behind the scenes here. Kiffin twice used the term “push,” as if with just a little shove in the right direction, Burgess might be able to play if so inclined.

It’s a sticky subject where Burgess is concerned. During training camp, Burgess said there was talk of upgrading his contract befitting his status as the NFL leader in sacks over the 2005 and 2006 seasons, only to have the talks cease once Mike Lombardi left the organization.

Burgess didn’t attend any voluntary workout sessions in the offseason and started training camp on the physically unable to perform list after hernia surgery.

He chose his words carefully during camp on the money issue, making it clear that he would look out for himself as well as the team.

“Hopefully they decide they want to give me a new contract, cool. If not, hey, it’s a business, you’ve got to remember that,” Burgess said. “The only part I want everybody to understand, like I tell the young cats, always treat it like one. That’s it.”

Burgess could decide that it’s not good business to take the field when speed, one of his important assets, is an issue because of an injury. Going out and being ineffective is never good business, and neither is making the injury worse. He has been down that road before in Philadelphia, where he missed nearly as many games as he played.

It would behoove both the Raiders and Burgess to make sure he’s at or near full strength. If that means sitting out this week and even next week, the Week 5 bye would give him three weeks to get healthy.

He could still get a running start at the season with three quarters of it remaining to be played. At 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, Burgess is not a stout defensive end, smaller than many linebackers. He is not going to get past 330-pound tackles without the burst which has put him in the Pro Bowl two years running.

If Burgess spends the season nursing a nagging injury which robs him of his speed, it’s bad business all around.

More Friday news and notes:

– C Jeremy Newberry (questionable) practiced for the first time this week, although he did not finish practice. Kiffin said Newberry might be available, but that Jake Grove would start. Grove will give up at last 75 pounds to Cleveland nose tackle Ted Washington.

– RB LaMont Jordan (back) practiced Friday, was listed as probable and should be good to go for Cleveland.

“We’ll play him as normal and monitor him during the game,” Kiffin said.

– Those who did not practice, were listed as doubtful and likely won’t face Cleveland included LB Robert Thomas (hamstring) and FB Oren O’Neal (hamstring). LB Isaiah Ekejiuba is out with a cracked bone in his foot.

With Thomas and Ekejiuba out, Ricky Brown is the lone reserve linebacker.

– The way Kiffin sees it, Josh McCown’s struggles against Denver and the Josh bashing that ensued is not necessarily a bad thing. McCown, who left the practice facility in a protective boot on his sprained foot, was listed as probable.

“I think it helps him a lot, because he is very tough and he’s a tough competitor,” Kiffin said, noting that Denver coach Mike Shanahan noticed that McCown was passing in pain against the Broncos. “It’s of extreme value, especially to go through a time where there’s a lot of questions about the starting quarterback in the public, and I’d venture to say the public perception is they’d much rather not have him be the starting quarterback.

“It’s very valuable to have that as opposed to a quarterback who maybe hasn’t been through adversity, and is not very tough and wouldn’t be able to handle it very well. I think he’s handled it great.”

We’ll see how “good” it is if McCown experiences similar adversity against Cleveland.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer