7

So much for Arkansas

News, notes and observations from Wednesday as the Raiders began serious preprations to host the Indianapolis Colts at McAfee Coliseum:

– Another unsubstantiated rumor went down the tubes when Bobby Petrino pulled a reverse that even Nick Saban thought was cowardly and bolted the Atlanta Falcons for the University of Arkansas.

Petrino’s hiring officially removed alleged candidate Lane Kiffin from the proceedings, although rumors persisted Kiffin pursued the job. Included was a report in popular rumor/information site profootballtalk.com that Kiffin threw a bit of a tantrum when he found out Petrino got the job.

Quoting an “industry source,” it even went so far as to say Al Davis would let Kiffin walk.

“I never had any contact with the University of Arkansas, or any college about any job at all,” Kiffin said, responding to the rumors in general and not the PFT item in particular. “I’ve done nothing but prepare my team for the upcoming game.”

So you’re not interested in any college job?

“No, no. I’m coaching the Raiders and getting us ready to play,” Kiffin said. “I don’t have any idea where all that information came from.”

– No sign of Daunte Culpepper at practice. He is still out with a right quadriceps, meaning the depth chart will likely be as it was Dec. 2 against Denver _ Josh McCown as the starter, JaMarcus Russell getting some snaps as the backup and Andrew Walter as No. 3.

– I don’t have an industry source to quote, just a guess, but I’m starting to think Culpepper is done for the year, assuming McCown holds up. He got two good performances on film against Minnesota and Kansas City to boost his free agent stock, and he has no interest in backing up Russell.

McCown, on the other hand, has already said he wouldn’t mind coming back.

– After two weeks of being inactive for games, running back Dominic Rhodes is hoping to get a chance to see the field against his former teammates Sunday _ not that it has anything to do with the opponent.

“We are loooking at Dominic this week,” Kiffin said. “He had a real good practice today. We’ll continue to evaluate it as the week goes. We’re not going to play somebody because of where they played before. That’s not fair to the team. If he plays, it’s because we need him to play, he deserves to play and there’s something we feel he can help us with.”

Rhodes has 12 carries for 24 yards and one reception for 10 yards in nine games after being the most high-profile free agent to sign in the offseason. (Culpepper did not sign until training camp was underway).

The past few weeks Rhodes has attempted to put aside his personal feelings about his workload.

“Being upset and mad didn’t put me on the field,” Rhodes said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this week. I hope I do get in there and get an opportunity, get some extended playing time and try and get in a rhythm where I can make plays for this team.”

LaMont Jordan, the backup tailback the past two weeks, had 11 carries for 21 yards against a Green Bay defense which was probably expecting the Raiders to pass the ball.

The backup could get significant time against Indianapolis if Fargas takes another shot to the ribs.

– Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai, a college teammate of Russell’s at LSU, thinks Kiffin needn’t be concerned about the quarterback’s state of mind if were to be put in a difficult situation, saying making rookie mistakes is part of the learning process.

He also said Russell, like Peyton Manning is a good leader, even if his style is less assertive and combative.

“It’s just like a math problem,” Addai told the Bay Area media by conference call. “You could work the problem out a lot of ways and still get the same answer. Peyton has a different way of going about it and JaMarcus has a different way of going about it, but they still get the job done and and that’s what you love about ‘em.”

Russell said has spoken with Manning but not a lot about technical football, although Manning has extended the offer to do that some day.

“I worked his camp for the past two years,” Russell said. “He’s a good guy, has a great personality, good to be around and he does well with people. He handles himself in a decent way.”

– Wide receiver Jerry Porter, getting to Russell before reporters did, used his Blackberry to simulate a tape recorder and asked, “Who is going to catch your first touchdown pass?”

Said Russell: “I’m going to throw it and catch it myself.”

– Sometimes being 4-9 isn’t so bad. Just ask fullback Justin Griffith, who played for the Atlanta Falcons last year.

“It’s hard to watch. Some guys I don’t know but talking to Warrick (Dunn) last night, it’s almost like a dark cloud is hanging over head,” Griffith said. “The Mike Vick thing going down, the season not going good, the head coach, accepted the job at Arkansas. They got some rebuilding to do, but it’s going to take some time. Hopefully they’ll get a coach that’s going to stay around . . . I’m happy I’m here.”

– Other than Culpepper and Jarrod Cooper, who along with his crutches and surgically repaired ACL remain on the 53-man roster, the only player to miss practice due to injury was center Jake Grove.

Grove has missed the last six days and conceded he may need surgery at some point, although he is hoping to avoid it.

– When Warren Sapp was asked about shoring up the Raiders’ run defense following the Packers game, his speech included the phrase “Do your job” more than once. No surprise that Tony Dungy used the same phrase when asked how the Colts fixed their run defesne last season.

As bad as the Raiders have been this year, giving up an NFL-worst 153.6 yards per game on the ground, the Colts were worse last season. They finished last in run defense, giving up 173 yards per game on the ground.

In the playoffs, the Colts gave up 82 yards per game on the ground en route to winning the Super Bowl. The easy answer for the improvement was the return of hard-hitting safety Bob Sanders, although Dungy said it is not that simple.

“We just started playing better. The thing we didn’t do was change a lot of things,” Dungy said. “And it was frustrating to me because I knew we should be playing a lot better than we were. We had some people in and out of the lineup. In some cases had young guys in there. In other cases had guys maybe trying to do too much. We always tried sell our team on if they just did their jobs on every play we would be fine and we didn’t need a major overhaul.

“Then we got to the playoffs and Bob got back in and Anthony MacFarland got comfortable with us. And I think the guys did just settle in and just play our defense. And that’s really what’s happened this year. We’ve been a little healthier, we know what we’re doing a little bit more and just playing sounder.”

Despite what might be the smallest front seven in the NFL, the Colts are giving up 102.9 yards per game on the ground.

Said Kiffin: “We’re just one week removed from Denver, which was on a roll, and we shut them down. Maybe we can get back to that this week. It’s been very upand down this year. we just wnat to end on an up note with it.”

– Fans attending the game are urged to bring an unwrapped toy, valued at $20 or more, as the Raiders are teaming up with the U.S. Marine Corps reserve in the Toys for Tots program to bring some Christmas cheer to underprivileged children.

Marines will be stationed at the West Side Plaza, as well as Gates A, B, C and D before and after the game.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer