Daunte Culpepper took it easy during practice Thursday with a mysterious right quadriceps injury which will only serve to fuel speculation about the role of JaMarcus Russell this weekend against the Denver Broncos.
“He did some stuff today, we’ll see what he can do tomorrow,” Kiffin said of Culpepper.
In Culpepper’s absence, both Josh McCown and Russell took reps with the first team.
So now what?
ESPN reported a few weeks back Russell would be the starting quarterback on Dec. 2. Kiffin refuted that report, eventually going on record that Russell’s performance most likely be as a reserve for a few series with a scripted number of plays.
He said the first clue for a Russell sighting on Sunday would be when he is the backup.
So we have a few different scenarios and theories at work.
A) The Culpepper injury is a ruse, and and the Dec. 2 report was right all along. A few weeks ago, a secret high-level meeting (Al Davis and Kiffin) was held and it was determined the rookie would start against the Broncos.
B) Assuming Kiffin is on the up-and-up about Russell playing first as a reserve, the chances of seeing the No. 1 pick Sunday have taken a hit. With Culpepper hurting, Kiffin will have to play it safe and make McCown the backup because if Culpepper starts and finds he can’t finish, Russell would be exposed to situations Kiffin wants to avoid.
(Note: After I left the locker room, SFGate.com reported McCown appeared in the locker room with his left hand wrapped in ice after dislocating two joints in hi left pinkie during practice Wednesday _ an injury which wasn’t mentioned by Kiffin).
C) Culpepper is going to be fine, Russell will be the backup and see his first action of the season at some point on Sunday.
Right now, I’d lean toward “C.”
“A” is eliminated because I think Culpepper has too much pride to be a prop for the rookie’s debut. If Culpepper had issued “no comments” on Wednesday, maybe it is worth talking about.
But Culpepper, who left the locker room at one point, promised to return and answer a few questions and made good on his word.
“It was just sore yesterday,” Culpepper said. “Last night when I cooled off it really got sore. I woke up this morning . . . tried to ice it last night and it was sore. I kind of cut back on my reps today because I didn’t want to make it any worse than it is.”
A mass of bruises after any game, Culpepper assumes he was injured against the Chiefs, although the line kept him fairly clean all day, with two sacks.
“I think it was a hit I took in the game maybe,” Culpepper said. “I’m a guy who always has aches and pains but I never really make a big deal if I still can go. I think after running around yesterday and doing my conditioning it gradually got a little worse. I’m being cautious and don’t want to aggravate it any more.”
If Culpepper is back to full reps Thursday, “B” doesn’t even come into play. If not, Russell could end up being the starter by default assuming a left-pinky injury could keep McCown out of the game.
Kiffin played his “too many variables” card _ one of his favorite answers concerning potential situations _ when asked about the potential quarterback rotation in the event Culpepper can’t play.
“I don’t anticipate him being out but if he was then we’ll figure it out (by Sunday),” Kiffin said.
There is another possibility. If Culpepper starts and plays well in a tight game, Russell could stay on the sidelines even if he is the backup because Kiffin will be reluctant to swing a game in the wrong direction because he inserted the rookie at the wrong time.
Thursday’s round of Arkansas questions:
Q: Can you respond to the Arkansas rumors? Is there any interest your part?
Kiffin: I covered that yesterday. I don’t know anything about that and we’ll get ready for Denver.
Q: How do you keep it from becoming a distraction?
Kiffin: We don’t even talk about it. It’s stuff for you guys to write about it.”
Q: Just to be clear, you have no interest in the Arkansas job?
That last question is what is known in the business as the “IK,” or “Interview killer.”
As he did Wednesday, Arkansas questions caused Kiffin to issue a quick, “OK?” as he backed out of the group and trotted off to the locker room. End of interview session.
ESPN continues to report on its rumor site, with no on-the-record sources, that Kiffin is interested in the Arkansas job, but that getting freed from his contract could be a problem.
Following the 2003, Davis wouldn’t let assistant Jay Norvell out of a contract to join Bill Callahan at Nebraska. Callahan waited it out, and when Norv Turner was OK with not having Norvell on staff, he was allowed to leave.
But make no mistake, if Davis wants to make it difficult for Kiffin to leave, he can, even though the pro-to-college jump has some gray areas that don’t exist with a move to another NFL team.
He can certainly make it difficult enough for a long enough time that Arkansas will move on to another target. With a new A.D. and no coach, Arkansas needs a coach in place soon or they’ll soon find themselves at the bottom in the SEC recruiting.
With Kiffin apparently having no interest in making a more emphatic statement regarding this alleged “candidacy,” expect the speculation to continue until Arkansas begins making candidates public and the actually hires a coach.
News, notes, and observations:
— The Raiders declared the Broncos game a sellout, meaning there is no blackout and the game will be televised locally.
— Derrick Burgess, who missed practice with a sore Achilles Wednesday, was listed as having fully participated Thursday.
— The Raiders have not brought in a new player to replaced Jarrod Cooper, who underwent ACL surgery and is out for the season. When they do, Cooper will be put on injured reserve.
— With his 159-yard effort against Denver in the first meeting, LaMont Jordan could get the nod over Dominic Rhodes as the backup for Justin Fargas for the second straight week.
— Russell stayed as vague as possible regarding his involvement with the first team offense in Culpepper’s absence.
“I’m not sure, man, not sure,” Russell said when asked how many snaps he took.