Kiffin to keep Raiders starting QB a secret until gametime

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Lane Kiffin is closer to picking his starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders' season opener against Detroit. He just may wait until gametime Sept. 9 to announce the decision.

Kiffin said he could tell Josh McCown and Daunte Culpepper who won the job as early as Sunday, but wants to keep the decision under wraps to make the Lions prepare for two different quarterbacks.

Culpepper was sharper in the final exhibition game Thursday at Seattle, completing 11 of 19 passes for 108 yards and leading the offense to its only touchdown in a 19-14 loss. But Culpepper also threw an interception.

McCown started the game and went 5-for-12 for 75 yards in four series.

"They both did well but could have played better," Kiffin said Friday. "It was not their best game."

Culpepper is not as familiar with the offense as McCown after signing with the team July 31 when it became apparent that top draft pick JaMarcus Russell would not be in camp anytime soon because of a contract dispute.

Russell remains unsigned and the Raiders could enter the season without their quarterback of the future on the roster. That leaves the job to either McCown or Culpepper.

"Whatever my role is, I accept it," Culpepper said after the game. "That's how I'm going forward with it. If they feel I'm ready to play, then I'll be ready mentally. If not, I'll be ready to help out in every situation. So in my mind, it really doesn't matter. Obviously I want to be out there. But I don't want to miss the whole fact that I have to get ready to go out there."

Culpepper has shown that his surgically repaired right knee is healthy this preseason. He's thrown four touchdown passes with only one interception as he tries to put last year's disappointment in Miami behind him.

After throwing 39 touchdown passes in 2004 in Minnesota, Culpepper battled injuries the past two years and had just eight TD passes and 18 turnovers. That led to his release by Miami in July and his late signing with the Raiders.

McCown was acquired in a draft-day trade with the Lions, hoping for a chance to prove he can be an NFL starter. McCown made 22 starts with Arizona before backing up Jon Kitna in Detroit last season.

Andrew Walter, who started eight games last season, is the third quarterback on the roster right now. But Kiffin said the team could choose to go with only two, leaving a spot for Russell when he eventually signs.

"That is a possibility," Kiffin said. "Ten teams actually started the season that way last year. That is a direction teams have gone to and it is an option we would investigate."

In other position fights, Justin Griffith beat out incumbent Zack Crockett for the starting fullback position, while the competition at center between Jake Grove and Jeremy Newberry remains open.

Griffith spent the past four years as a blocking back in Atlanta, where he helped the Falcons lead the NFL in rushing over the past three seasons. Kiffin praised Griffith's consistency for winning the job.

"He does things right and also helps us in the passing game," Kiffin said. "He has very good hands. He has very loose hips. He is a natural runner which helps a fullback in the system to be able to find the holes. He also is very good in pass protection, too."

Crockett is a 12-year veteran who has spent the past eight seasons in Oakland. He has mostly been used as a blocker and in short-yardage situations, running for 35 touchdowns with the Raiders.

Crockett could be in danger of not making the roster when cuts are made Saturday as rookie Oren O'Neal has impressed the coaches in training camp and Kiffin might only keep two fullbacks.

Also, linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba has a cracked bone in his ankle and could miss four weeks, placing his status on the roster in doubt.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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