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”


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer