ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Lane Kiffin hoped one of his quarterbacks would make it obvious in the preseason who should start when the regular season begins.
Halfway through the exhibition season, Daunte Culpepper is doing his best to be that player.
Culpepper outplayed Andrew Walter and Josh McCown in Saturday night's 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, throwing two touchdown passes and showing he can still run a little on his reconstructed knee.
"Daunte has done a great job and really is performing well," Kiffin said Sunday. "It's great to see him out there on the field and the way he is on a game-day environment. He couldn't be more serious about winning this job."
A former Pro Bowl quarterback in Minnesota, Culpepper has been slowed by knee injuries the past two seasons. That led to his release from Miami in July and the chance to recharge his career in Oakland.
He is behind his competitors at quarterback in terms of learning the offense and shaking off the rust that built up after he missed the final 12 games last season recovering from his knee injury.
But he has also shown flashes of the player who had so much success in Minnesota. He is 11-for-20 for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the exhibition season and has been healthy enough to rollout and scramble.
"I feel that I have to continue to get better every day," he said. "That's really my focus right now to get a little bit better every day. Every time I step on the field I want to get a little bit better. If I can do that I can be the player that I was brought here to be and the player I want to be."
With No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell still at an impasse in contract talks, Kiffin's choice of starter for the season opener against Detroit on Sept. 9 will come from Culpepper, Walter and McCown.
McCown started the first exhibition game against Arizona, followed by Walter and then Culpepper. Kiffin switched it up against the 49ers with Walter starting, followed by Culpepper and McCown.
Kiffin has not said who he will use his quarterbacks against St. Louis on Friday night but he might want to give Culpepper a shot with the first team. He hopes to have a decision after that game, but he said the addition of Culpepper on July 31 has made the decision more difficult.
"Daunte brought a different variable because we didn't have him the whole time," Kiffin said. "If we hadn't added him, we might have figured this out already."
Culpepper's most telling play against San Francisco might have been when he scrambled 13 yards to convert a third down, cutting on his rebuilt knee to elude a defender. He slid at the end of the play instead of trying to bowl over a defender like he might have done in the past. It's one of the few concessions he'll make to his knee injury.
"I'm just trying to be smart and try to do what I have to do," he said. "Sometimes I'm going to have to try to run a guy over and drop my shoulder. In that situation I made a guy miss, got the first down and went down."
Culpepper's biggest problem so far has been the simplest task - the exchange from center. He has fumbled three snaps in two games, including his first play in both contests. Kiffin said it's mostly a matter of timing with new teammates.
Walter, who struggled last season in his opportunity to play as a pro, has looked better behind a more solid offensive line in the exhibition season.
But he showed signs of last season in his start against San Francisco. He fumbled a shotgun snap on the Raiders' first possession for a 20-yard loss, and threw an interception on the third possession before leading the Raiders on a touchdown drive in his final series.
McCown finished 8-for-17 for 97 yards, working with second- and third-stringers against a backup defense. He almost led an improbable winning drive, connecting with Alvis Whitted on a 38-yard pass before Whitted dropped a sure touchdown catch in the end zone in the final seconds.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press