Culpepper’s quad acts up


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.

Arkansas redux

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?

Kiffin: Yeah.

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.

You think?

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.


Postgame wrap


News, notes and observations from Sunday’s 20-17 win by the Raiders over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium:

— Lane Kiffin said often he never bought into the AFC West streak, and he didn’t want his players to believe it, either. Just pretend as if it doesn’t exist and prepare for the next game.

Well, not exactly. Apparently Kiffin reminded the Raiders of their 17-game losing streak often.

“You can stop writing about it and Kiff can stop reading it and reading it to us,” defensive tackle Warren Sapp said.

— The way Herm Edwards managed the end of the game for the Chiefs made Art Shell look like Bill Belichick.

After the Raiders took a 20-17 lead, they did what they almost always do _ allowed Kansas City to drive right back down the field and deep into scoring territory. A third-and-5 pass from Brodie Croyle to Eddie Kennison got just four yards, bringing up fourth-and-1.

The Chiefs called time out. Then they decided to challenge the ruling on the spot, believing they may have had a first down. If they had made the challenge immediately, they would have lost a time out if they lost the challenge, and still had all three if they were right.

When officials upheld the original spot, the Chiefs were out a pair of time outs and had only one left.

Then the Chiefs decided to go for the first down on fourth-and-1 and didn’t get it when Kolby Smith was stopped for a 1-yard loss by Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard.

Kansas City rushed for 163 yards and Smith had 150 on 31 carries in his first start, but it was a risky call. Too risky, Sapp believed. Referring to the two big pass plays Kiffin called on Oakland’s scoring drive which led to the leading score, juxtaposed with Edwards’ work in the final moments, Sapp said, “Kiff goes a little unconvetional and Herm hands us the game. That’s wrong. You kick that ball, you tie the game and you’re at home and live to fight another day. You tie that game, kick it off, line it up and play defense and stretch the game a little longer.”

— Kiffin noted that Dave Raymer, the Chiefs kicker, had missed a 30-yard field goal a short time before.

“I don’t know that I was surprised,” Kiffin said. “I guess you’ve got to keep in mind they had just missed a field goal pretty bad, so maybe it had to do with the footing or the kicker.”

— If Edwards had called something other than the base running play on the fourth-and-1, he likely would have hit paydirt. Rob Ryan had sent in a goal line defense, something the Raiders rarely do at the 23-yard-line in short yardage.

Kirk Morrison said he thought back to Dick Vermeil’s decision to send Larry Johnson in from the 1-yard line with time running out in his rookie year and figured it would be a run.

“You just think back to all the times that we played the Kansas City Chiefs. For them, passing in that situation would be copping out,” Morrison said. “That’s just not their mentality.”

— Raymer’s field goal preceeded an amazing three-play sequence unlike anything the Raiders have shown in recent years.

On first down, Daunte Culpepper hit Zach Miller with a 28-yard gain. Miller, the rookie from Arizona State, has been predominatly a block-and-release receiver. The depth of the route caught the Chiefs flat-footed.

“It looked like one of our other plays and I just took it deep, and it worked just like it did in practice,” Miller said. “We knew it would be there all week and we called it at a perfect time. They were all up on the ball, and it turned out pretty awesome.”

On the next play, Culpepper waited for Porter to get between zones and led him perfectly for a 35-yard strike down the right sideline to the 14-yard line. Fargas ran it in from the 14 on the next play.

The team that has numerous eight-plus play drives end in punts had scored on three perfectly executed plays.

“We talked about it with our players. It’s going to be in the fourth quarter, it’s going to be like all these other games and we’re going to go for it,” Kiffin said. “We’re not going to wait for something to happen, we’re not going to wait for them to screw it up. We’re going to go for it. We’re going to attack, and I thought we did that, especially in the second half.”

— Kiffin talked during the week about how eager he was to face the same team for the second time in a season. He said Sunday night some plays, the pass to Miller in particular, were adjustments based on the prevous Chiefs game.

“We did a lot today that counteracted what we had done last time and what we’ve been able to see with matchups,” Kiffin said.

— Whatever it is Kiffin was drawing up, what made everything possible was the Raiders best offensive line play of the season. It wasn’t perfect, but considering they were playing in Arrowhead against a front seven that dominated them in Oakland, it was better than the Week 4 domination against an extremely weak Miami defense.

Paul McQuistan was called for a false start and a hold but held up much better than in Tennesee or Minnesota. The decision to play him at right tackle and leave Robert Gallery at left tackle was a wise one in terms of continuity.

On the three-play drive which gave the Raiders the lead, Culpepper had all the time he needed to complete the passes to Miller and Porter. No Chiefs were anywhere near the pocket.

— He got some help as Kiffin tried to limit one-on-one situations, but Barry Sims effectively controlled Allen, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate, as few linemen have this season.

— Fargas’ 139-yard effort was the first time the Raiders put a back over 100 yards in Arrowhead since Nov. 5, 1978. Art Whittington gained 134 yards that day.

— Michael Huff got his first interception in the 27th game of his career, correctly reading a Brodie Croyle sideline pass for impressive rookie Dwayne Bowe.

“That took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Huff said. “They were throwing it to the outside receiver, Tony (Gonzalez) stayed in and blocked and I just took a chance and jumped it. I just made a play.”

— In case you were wondering, yes, LaMont Jordan’s 5-yard touchdown run was supposed to be a pass.

“You liked that, huh?,” Kiffin said. “Should I make myself look good? No, that was a halfback pass. He was supposed to throw it away if it’s covered. It was a great play by him. And our guys still fighting on the backside, playing until the whistle. It was a really good play by LaMont. Yeah, it was a halfback pass.”

Jordan has been with the Raiders since 2005 and had never scored a rushing touchdown on the road. The first time he gets one, it comes on a pass play.

Jordan apparently moved back above Dominic Rhodes as the second back behind Fargas.

— The Raiders twice had possessions on the Chiefs side of the field _ Huff’s interception gave them the ball at the 26 and a 29-yard Dustin Colquitt punt let them open at the 48 _ and wound up with field goals both times.

More maddening, both times the Chiefs immediately came back and scored, once on a touchdown and once on a field goal, and took a 10-6 lead into the half.

— Smith is the eighth running back to gain 100 or more yards on the Raiders this season, joining Travis Henry, Ronnie Brown, LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, LenDale White, Ron Dayne and Chester Taylor.

— Stuart Schweigert missed the first game of his career after suiting up for 58 consecutive games and was replaced in the starting lineup by Hiram Eugene, although Eugene came out on occasion with Chris Carr playing deep safety in some packages.

— Supported with good protection and a terrific running game, Culpepper completed 68.1 percent of his passes (15 of 22) for 170 yards. He had one pass dropped _ one which would have been a first down by Curry _ and another to Porter was ruled out of bounds and looked as if it could have been ruled complete.

— As to the report last week that JaMarcus Russell would start Dec. 2 against the Broncos, Kiffin said Culpepper would start against Denver.

— Expect the Raiders to keep moving forward with the plan to get Russell in a game, although if they look as smooth and error free under Culpepper as they did against Kansas City, it might make Kiffin more hesitant to do it as soon as Sunday.

Which, of course, is a good problem to have.

— Jarrod Cooper went down with a knee injury in the first half and Kiffin indicated he is probably out for the season. The Raiders played most of the game without their two most valuable core special teams players, Cooper and Isaiah Ekejiuba, who was inactive with a foot injury.

— Janikowski had his first touchback in two weeks and converted both field goal attempts, including a 54-yard bomb. He has made 17 of his last 18 attempts.


Jordan inactive


Running back LaMont Jordan was one of eight Raiders players declared inactive Sunday, raising the possibility the veteran could be waived if the club activates activates rookie Michael Bush this week.

Jordan entered Sunday’s game as the Raiders leading rusher by three yards over Justin Fargas, who replaced him as the starter. Off to the best start of his career, Jordan gained 424 yards on 84 carries through halftime of a 35-17 Week 4 win over Miami, but left with a back injury.

Although he didn’t miss a game, Jordan has 97 yards on 45 carries since the injury. He was active in last week’s 17-6 loss to Chicago but spent the game wearing sweat pants over his game pants.

Jordan has salary cap numbers of $6.1 and $6.4 million over the next two years. He accepted a roster bonus reduction of $1.75 million to remain with the Raiders in 2007.

Also inactive was special teams standout Isaiah Ekejiuba, who injured an ankle late in Friday’s practice.

Other Raiders inactives were:

QB Josh McCown

CB John Bowie

C Jake Grove

T Mario Henderson

DT Josh Shaw

QB JaMarcus Russell (third quarterback)

Vikings inactives:

CB Roynell Whitaker

RB Adrian Peterson

S Eric Frampton

TE Garrett Mills

T Chase Johnson

WR Aundrae Wilson

DE Jayme Mitchell

QB Kelly Holcomb (third quarterback)


Pre-practice update


Cornerbacks Fabian Washington (calf) and Nnamdi Asomugha (knee) were not suited up for the second consecutive day, walking out to the field after warmups Thursday as team drills began.

Center Jake Grove (knee), who was limited Wednesday, was not practicing Thursday. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp (knee) was not on the field and will apparently miss practice for the second consecutive day.

Defensive tackle Gerard Warren was again suited up and practicing. Center Jeremy Newberry and tackle Cornell Green, who took Wednesday off, were back on the field.


Building a Russell-friendly system


It’s interesting to note that both starting wide receivers, who would stand to benefit the most from having JaMarcus Russell on the field, think it’s too soon to put the rookie in a game.

Following Sunday’s 24-17 loss to Houston, wide receiver Jerry Porter told Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole anyone calling for Russell at this point should “shut the (heck) up. And I mean it. Write it.”

He wasn’t speaking only out of anger following a loss. Porter talked about how the Bengals rushed No. 3 overall pick Akili Smith, and then later took their time with No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer.

“They gave Carson Palmer enough time to develop (behind Jon Kitna) and din’t put him out there until he had the best chance to succeed,” Porter said.

A day later, Curry, speaking with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, seemed in agreement.

“I don’t think the offense is to the point where you want to put your franchise player out there and end his career before it gets started,” Curry said. “Until we get something stable on offense to where he can come in and perform to his abilities, I don’t think this offense will help him out . . . I don’t think it will be a comfortable situation for him, personally.”

Kiffin talked Monday about putting the proper pieces around Russell, creating an environment for success.

It goes further than that, because the system will need tweaking as well.

If it looks as if the Raiders’ current offense isn’t suited to Russell’s skills, it is because it’s not.

The Raiders, as currently constituted, are always on the lookout for the next first down. Russell’s talents suggest a passer who can strike at any moment. It is said he can throw any type of pass, but it is the deep throw and the threat of the deep throw which will open everything else up.

The Raiders aren’t built to throw deep, mostly because of their receivers and tackles.

Porter is avearging 17.5 yards per catch this season, eighth best in the league for receivers with 15 or more receptions. But he is more of a medium-depth receiver who can be run down from behind by just about any cornerback in the NFL.

Curry is a classic third-down, possession receiver. He’s most effective in the slot, probing open areas and not looking to go the distance.

When Mike Williams was around, the Raiders had three good-sized receivers who were not burners and looked to do the same thing. It took 5-foot-8 Tim Dwight, 32 years old, exactly one game to accomplish more than Williams did in seven. Dwight’s not the longterm answer, but at least he provides a different look and a complementary style.

The hope is that at some point Johnnie Lee Higgins, a more explosive player who is said to have better football speed than 40-yard-dash time, can one day become a deep threat.

Expect the Raiders receiving corps to look different next year with receivers who can help the Raiders capitalize on what Russell has to offer. There’s always a need for someone like Curry, but don’t be surprised if he and Higgins are the only returnees, providing Higgins develops as hoped.

A catch-and-run scatback in the Charlie Garner mold wouldn’t hurt, either.

The other problem is the pass protection. As poor as McCown played against Houston, his mobility was a huge upgrade from Culpepper. Culpepper’s three rushing touchdowns against Miami were false hope regading his ability to run, which was borne out in the following three games.

McCown measured off first down scrambles and got out of sack situations. He had fairly consistent pressure but was only sacked once.

Russell runs better than Culpepper, but not as well as McCown. He will be looking to throw the ball, not run it, and the Raiders as currently constituted aren’t ready for a quarterback who is sure to have some indecisive moments where he holds the ball too long.

Pass protecting tackles will be high on Oakland’s off-season shopping list.

Kiffin and Greg Knapp never planned on Russell being a major factor this year, anyway. The original hope was Jeff Garcia could come in and be a resourceful bridge to a more explosive future, and when that didn’t work out, they brought in McCown.

That doesn’t mean Russell won’t be getting snaps at some point this year to get him acclimated to the intensity and speed of an NFL game.

But Russell won’t get the chance to be anything special without players which enhance his skills, and that can’t happen until they get through this season.


Third quarter: Texans 17, Raiders 3



Oakland–Sebastian Janikowski 22-yard field goal, 7:40.


— Facing a third-and-1 on their first possession of the second half, Ron Dayne took an outside pitch and rumbled 39 yards to the Oakland 31-yard-line.

— Ex-Raider Adimchinobe Echemandu gained a yard subbing for a winded Dayne on the following play, then ran 5 yards to the 25-yard line.

— Brown had a 43-yard field goal attempt blocked by Jay Richardson with 11:48 to play in the third quarter.

— Justin Fargas opened the Raiders first possession of the second half carried the ball the first three plays and 21 yards. He has 74 yards on 15 carries and is the lone consistent part of the offense.

— McCown connected on his biggest pass play, a 29-yarder to fullback Justin Griffith to the 17-yard line.

— An incomplete McCown-to-Ronald Curry pass in the end zone resulted in an unsportsmanlike contact call on Will Demps and set up the Raiders with a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line.

— An incomplete pass and a 2-yard completion to Curry gave the Raiders a third-and-goal at the 5-yard-line. McCown’s third-down pass to a tightly-covered John Madsen was broken up in the end zone by DeMeco Ryans.

— Sebastian Janikowski came in and kicked a 22-yard field goal withi 7:40 to play in the third quarter.

— Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is out of the game with an ice bag on his left knee.

— Sage Rosenfels completed a 19-yard pass to Owen Daniels at the Houston 47 for a first down.

— Dayne has 84 yards in 12 carries after coming into the game averaging 2.9 per attempt.

— Jerry Porter took a short pass from McCown, spun out of a tackle and gained 32 yards to the Houston 43-yard-line. Fargas gained 2 yards to the 41 for the last play of the quarter.


Yes, they must


Want to kick the Lane Kiffin recycled quote machine into overdrive?

Ask him if the next game is a “must win.”

Kiffin will patiently explain that he doesn’t think that way.

The way he sees it, if you designate a game as a “must-win” game, and then lose, how can you possibly sell your team on the importance of the next game? You’ve already lost the game you absolutely had to have.

Kiffin is big on sales. He talks about “selling” players on attitudes, systems and concepts as if Al Davis is playing him on commission. The Raiders by almost every objective analysis, are a better team than they were a year ago. Yet their 2-5 record is the same.

The biggest difference between being the head coach of the Raiders and a co-offensive coordinator at USC, Kiffin said, is the expectation of success. Coaching a team which is 17-54 since 2003 is an entirely different animal.

“You come from winning 54 of 59 games, and you’re dealing with a completely different locker room,” Kiffin said. “You’re dealing with a locker room where there a number of guys in the NFL that haven’t won anything. So it’s a completely different job.”

While Kiffin wouldn’t agree, the Raiders face a “must-win” game Sunday against the Houston Texans at McAfee Coliseum.

It’s not a “must-win” in terms of the playoff race because the Raiders could lose and, as LaMont Jordan noted last year at midseason, “ten and six is still out there.”

It’s not a must-win mathematically, and it’s not a must-win realistically, either, because face it _ the playoff ship has essentially sailed when you take a closer look at the final six opponents of the season.

Here are some reasons beating the Texans is a must:

— Because the Raiders can win. Not only can win, but should win. There aren’t many of those games out there.

— Because the offensive line badly needs a good game to rebuild its confidence after being pushed around for the last 12 quarters against formidable front sevens (plus a safety, in most cases).

The first four games were not a mirage. It was an offensive line playing at a level far above anything on display last year. Here’s betting you’ll see something closer to that line against the Texans, who are giving up 4.6 yards per carry on the ground.

— Because the Houston game serves as a first step in the possibility of a three-game recovery (Chicago and Minnesota follow) before embarking on a brutal final six games starting Nov. 25 _ at Kansas City, Denver, at Green Bay, Indianapolis, at Jacksonville and San Diego.

If the Raiders could play enough solid football to win the next three, then somehow win two of the last six, they could call it a hell of a year at 7-9.

(Admittedly, this is a lot to ask. The last time the Raiders won three straight was in 2002, when their five-game winning streak from Nov. 11 to Dec. 8 propelled them to their third straight AFC West title).

If they lose to Houston, they’re headed for 4-12 territory.

— Because it gives the Raiders run defense a chance to rise up and stop someone, something it needs for confidence purposes the second half of the season. The Texans haven’t had a running back over 73 yards this season and are ranked 30th in rushing yardage (80.5 yards per game) and dead last in yards per carry (3.2).

— Because the Raiders, in their illustrious history, have never beaten the Texans. OK, they’re only 0-2, but winning would at least add a throwaway line in their press release about having beaten every NFL team. It can go right under “The Team of the Decades” or “Greatness of the Raiders.”

— Because the Texans’ starting quarterback is Sage Rosenfels.

— Because it will reward the 40,000-odd fans who could have stayed home and watched New England play Indianapolis. Show up to this game and you’re hard core.


It’s the right move


Don’t feel sorry for Daunte Culpepper.

He’ll make $3.2 million this season for delivering one memorable moment _ a 35-17 win over the Miami Dolphins during which he demonstrated all is well.

All was not well.

The last three games demonstrated Lane Kiffin’s instincts were right all along, and that doesn’t necessarily mean Culpepper is washed up as an NFL quarterback.

Culpepper, without the ability to run and break tackles, isn’t the same guy he was before his right knee was turned into confetti. Even if he was the Culpepper of old, it wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the Raiders offense as currently constituted.

Seven games into the season, it’s apparent the Raiders are going to be a team which tries to string together enough first downs to reach the end zone, rather than one that can explode at any moment.

Jerry Porter, their best deep threat, got caught from behind against Kansas City. Ronald Curry is strictly a possession receiver, albeit a good one. Johnnie Lee Higgins apparently isn’t ready.

Culpepper is as competitive as they come, popular with his teammates and one of the more classy individuals you’ll ever meet in terms of dealing with the media. He was gracious as a backup quarterback, gracious as a starter and supportive even after being deposed.

Scoff all you want and say, “yeah, for $3.2 million I’d be gracious too,” but the reality is most players aren’t.

But as much as you’d like to see the guy succeed, this isn’t a good fit. That’s what Kiffin believed from the outset, and that’s why McCown was _ and is _ the starting quarterback.

McCown fell short of his own expectations, let alone those of Kiffin and everyone else. He may do so again. But with the Raiders offensive personnel, a quarterback who can operate from under center, roll out and escape pressure is a necessity.

They showed some potential before McCown went down, driving for touchdowns on three straight drives against Detroit, running the ball well against Denver and taking a lead which Culpepper held against Cleveland.

But besides being injured, McCown undermined himself with the turnovers he wasn’t supposed to commit.

Kiffin, in his own way, tried to clue us all in on Wednesday that a change was in the works when he talked about how Culpepper was most comfortable in the shotgun, and that the shotgun wasn’t necessarily the best way to go.

The Raiders seem to be unable to protect in the shotgun, and the only way you gain yards consistently from a spread formation on the ground is with a quarterback who is a threat to run, making the option in play.

For all those reasons, it may be best to let JaMarcus Russell sit awhile longer, because his skill set is closer to that of Culpepper than McCown.

For the next three games, the Raiders have the most favorable part of their schedule. Houston, Chicago and Minnesota are a combined 8-15. All have quarterback issues. The Bears are the NFC defending champions in name only. None present front seven matchup problems like the ones the Raiders have faced the last three games.

So Kiffin is going back to his original plan. Start McCown, mix up the launching points for pass plays. Try and limit turnovers. Run the ball.

Even with the problems defending the run, the Raiders defense has been better the last two weeks.

If the Raiders win a couple of games or even sweep, it’s all good. They’ll be light years ahead of where they were last year.

If not, they’ll have all three division foes remaining, to go along with Green Bay, Indianapolis and Jacksonville _ with the Packers and Jaguars on the road.

At least there will be plenty of opportunities to play Russell.

More news, notes and observations from Thursday:

— RT Cornell Green made it through practice, although he had his knee heavily wrapped afterward.

— DT Gerard Warren came out to practice not in uniform and wearing a stocking cap. He slammed into a blocking sled a few times by himself, but didn’t practice with the team.

— WR Tim Dwight got in his second day of practice, but right now it’s a toss-up as to whether he’s active against Houston. At least one teammate was raving about his energy.

Here’s a suggestion _ activate him, let him return a couple of kicks, maybe run a reverse or quick screen from the slot. It gives defenses a different look from what they’ve seen from the Raiders so far. Considering the offensive production the past few weeks, there is no downside.

— Kiffin stunned everyone by actually committing to a quarterback in advance _ even some players.

Kiffin actually told Culpepper about his decision to start McCown Tuesday night. But when Kiffin didn’t tell the media Wednesday after practice, it meant everyone was coming to Culpepper for interviews when he didn’t feel it was his place to break the news.

No problem with with Kiffin snowing the media. Coaches do it all the time. It doesn’t show a lot of respect for Culpepper, however, putting him in that situation.

— Culpepper said Kiffin explained to him that McCown couldn’t lose his job due to injury. When asked about that scenario a couple of weeks ago, Kiffin indicated that wouldn’t be a factor.

It wasn’t.

If Culpepper had led the Raiders to wins over the Chargers, Chiefs and Titans, what do you think the chances are Kiffin would have said, “You’ve been great Daunte, but Josh is healthy now and he can’t lose his job to injury, so . . . ”

— I asked Culpepper if he had a minute as the open locker room session was closing. He said no problem, said he’d be right back. With a lot of players, that means going to an off-limits area until the media leaves.

Culpepper came back. He not only answered questions, he did it with McCown standing just a couple of feet away, and did it in a way which was respectful to both the team, McCown and those asking the questions.

If he ever comes back and throws 40 touchdown passes, I’ll stand on a chair and applaud.

— Raider Nation finds itself in a strange place with the news that the failure to sell out gave the Bay Area the chance to watch the Patriots and Colts.

For once, Raiders fans are being saluted rather than vilified.

And you know how much they hate that.

— Maybe it was a coincidence, but with the Raiders at 2-5 and one game from midseason, the first song on their loudspeaker playlist during warmups was Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” which includes the lines:

“Whooah we’re halfway there
Livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it _ I swear
Livin’ on a prayer”