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Raiders without Russell in opener

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Lane Kiffin will have to settle for seeing the quarterback who could have been the future of the Raiders instead of the one who is in his first exhibition game as Oakland's coach.

With No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell unsigned, the Raiders enter Saturday night's preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals with Josh McCown starting at quarterback, with Andrew Walter and Daunte Culpepper as the backups.

Matt Leinart will start for Arizona at quarterback. He's a player very familiar to Kiffin and one who could have been a Raider if the team hadn't passed him up in the 2006 draft.

Kiffin and Leinart won two national championships together at USC, with Leinart winning the Heisman Trophy award in 2004.

"It's going to be fun," Leinart said. "I'm excited to see him before the game. They've got Mike Williams now, who was my receiver in college. And I know quite a few of the guys on the team, so it's going to be fun to go there."

In the 2006 draft, the Raiders chose safety Michael Huff with the seventh pick as Leinart fell to the Cardinals at No. 10. While the Raiders are pleased with Huff, their struggles at quarterback last season contributed to a 2-14 record that led to coach Art Shell's firing.

One of those wins came at home against the Cardinals in Leinart's third career start in the NFL.

"Last year, we had some bad experiences there playing, but I'm looking forward to seeing Lane and seeing him as a head coach," Leinart said.

Shell was fired following the season and Kiffin was brought in to rebuild the Raiders. The team started by using the top pick this year on Russell and signing McCown and Culpepper to challenge Andrew Walter.

But with contract negotiations with Russell stalled, the Raiders will start McCown in the preseason opener against one of his former teams.

"I wanted to start this game, because I wanted to play against the players on it just because of the guys that I played with when I was there," said McCown, who spent four years in Arizona. "I just like competing against those guys. I thought it'd be fun."

The Cardinals also have a new coach this season in former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. The Raiders interviewed Whisenhunt before the 2006 season but he pulled out of talks before any offer was made and Oakland hired Art Shell.

Whisenhunt gets his chance this year with the Cardinals, who have plenty of talent at the skill positions with Leinart, receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and running back Edgerrin James.

"As a young team, we want to win, obviously. I think that's important," Whisenhunt said. "But you've also got to understand that we're trying to look at players. We're in a position now where we've got to find out about chemistry with some of our guys on the first unit, and then there's a number of positions where we have guys competing for backup roles."

A big focus for both new coaches this offseason was rebuilding the offensive line. The Cardinals were last in the league, averaging 3.2 yards per carry in 2006.

Arizona signed center Al Johnson and left tackle Mike Gandy as free agents in the offseason and used its first-round pick on Levi Brown of Penn State in an effort to shore up the blocking this season.

The Raiders allowed a league-worst 72 sacks last season, but the biggest changes in Oakland are about technique with the cut-blocking scheme brought in by new line coach Tom Cable.

Cable is the fourth line coach in the past four years in Oakland but the first to use cut-blocking. His schemes worked well last season in Atlanta when the Falcons rushed for 2,939 yards. Although 1,039 of those were by quarterback Michael Vick, it was still the most by an NFL team since 1978 when New England set the league record with 3,165.

This game will be the first real sign of how well the change is working, since the Raiders don't cut their own defense in practice to avoid any possible injuries.

"We're not going to cut our own guys here in practice and so you have to find out which guys are going to cut, which guys are going to do it right, which guys are going to be extremely physical and finish the way we need to," Kiffin said. "At times, there's a point where they have to cut off in practice because we don't want to do it with our own teammates."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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