NAPA, Calif. (Aug. 1, 2007) -- When JaMarcus Russell came out of college, some scouts compared his big build and strong arm to Daunte Culpepper. Well, at least the Oakland Raiders have one of those quarterbacks in training camp.
While Russell remains home in Alabama without a contract, Culpepper practiced with the Raiders for the first time after signing his one-year deal. Culpepper, a former Pro Bowl quarterback, had been looking for work since being released last month by Miami and found his spot in Oakland.
"I like to take chances like that," owner Al Davis said. "I don't know what the risk is. I don't see any real risk."
Davis likened the move to one he made back in 1979 when he signed Jim Plunkett, who went on to win two Super Bowl titles in Oakland. But Culpepper's stay in Oakland might not be that long.
He has only a one-year contract, and Russell will be groomed to take over as soon as he signs his contract and comes into camp.
"He's obviously the quarterback of this team in the future so whatever it's going to be," Culpepper said. "I feel that I'm here for a reason: No. 1 to help this team, help myself and also help him any way I can."
First, the Raiders need to get Russell into camp. The No. 1 overall pick has missed the first nine practices of training camp as the sides are unable to agree on a contract. Davis said the biggest holdup in the talks revolves around the structure of the deal, even though coach Lane Kiffin said earlier the problem was money.
Davis said Russell's agents, Eric Metz and Ethan Lock, want most of the money to be paid out in an option bonus, which is difficult for the team to recoup if a player violates his contract in the future. Davis said the team wants protection if Russell decides to hold out or feud with the team in the future.
"That's the only thing with JaMarcus. It's not money. That's ridiculous," Davis said. "It's the option bonus. they want all the money in option bonus. And they have the first choice they've ever had and they've got to come through with a decent deal otherwise they are done in the market. That is the story on JaMarcus."
Russell's agents have not spoken publicly on the talks and didn't return phone calls seeking comment.
So for now, the Raiders' quarterback situation involved only Culpepper, Josh McCown and Andrew Walter. Culpepper got only a little work in the morning practice; McCown and Walter shared most of the snaps with the first team. McCown suffered two interceptions, and Walter had four during the morning practice.
"It's unacceptable," Kiffin said. "We're turning the ball over too much right now and we'll lose a lot of games real fast if we keep that up."
Culpepper still needs to learn the playbook and showed he has recovered from the knee injuries that slowed him down the past two seasons. Kiffin said Culpepper would work his way into the rotation and have a chance to win the starting job. Both Culpepper and Kiffin said there isn't a timeline for that process.
"I'm just absorbing like a sponge right now, absorbing the offense," Culpepper said. "My mindset is continue to work to get better to be the starter. That's pretty much how I'm approaching it."
Culpepper, 30, began 2006 as Miami's starter but had trouble with his mobility and was sacked 21 times in the first four games. The Dolphins shut him down so he could continue rehabbing and eventually placed him on injured reserve. When they acquired Trent Green in a trade with Kansas City this offseason, Culpepper became expendable.
The Dolphins were unable to trade him and eventually released him July 17. Culpepper met with Tampa Bay two days later but did not receive a contract offer from the Bucs. The Raiders worked him out July 30 in Florida and then again the following day in California before signing him to a deal.
In eight NFL seasons, Culpepper has passed for 21,091 yards and 137 touchdowns with 89 interceptions. He has a career passer rating of 90.8. He wants the chance to prove he is still the same quarterback who threw 39 touchdown passes in 2004.
"Any time you're a great competitor and people doubt you, it's absolute fuel to overcome whatever they're saying or shut them up in a sense," he said. "I feel like I'm a self-motivated guy. I'm going to expect out of myself more than what anybody can make me or force me to do. My expectations for myself are higher than what anybody could set for me. But doubters, that does give me fuel."
McCown and Walter also have their share of doubters. McCown, acquired in a draft-day trade from Detroit, made 22 starts with Arizona before backing up Jon Kitna with the Lions last season. He has 25 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions in his career, but Davis likes his mobility and compared him to Rich Gannon.
The Raiders thought highly enough of Walter that they passed on the opportunity to draft Matt Leinart in 2006. Given a chance to play last season when Aaron Brooks got hurt, Walter went 2-6 and struggled with turnovers and accuracy.
Walter suffered 13 interceptions, lost nine fumbles and was sacked 46 times. He completed only 53.3 percent of his passes, threw for three touchdowns and had a passer rating of 55.8.
"Well, that poor Andrew Walter last year got hit so many times, I don't think he knew where they were coming from," Davis said.
The Associated Press News Service
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