<
>

Culpepper cleared for all Dolphins activities

Although he wasn't prepared yet to declare that his No. 1 quarterback will be totally rehabilitated in time to start the Sept. 7 regular-season opener, Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban said that Daunte Culpepper is sufficiently recovered from three torn knee ligaments to be cleared for full participation in training camp.

The medical clearance was anticipated, especially given Culpepper's mobility during spring minicamps and organized team activities sessions, but nonetheless represents another significant milestone in the remarkable recovery of the seven-year veteran.

"Daunte will do the same thing in this camp as every other player relative to the workload he is able to manage," Saban told the Miami-area media. "We'll try to manage with him as we go through this. We don't hit the quarterback anyway [during camp practices] so contact is not an issue."

The Dolphins acquired Culpepper from the Minnesota Vikings this spring in exchange for a second-round draft choice. While the compensation was modest, especially for a proven starter, the risk for the Dolphins was fairly significant.

Culpepper, 29, tore three ligaments in his right knee as he scrambled upfield Oct. 30 against the Carolina Panthers, when he was hit by safety Mike Minter and cornerback Chris Gamble. The result was about as catastrophic as a knee injury can be, and there were initial doubts about whether Culpepper would even play in 2006, let alone play in the season opener.

At the team's mandatory June minicamp, though, Culpepper moved surprisingly well. And at that point, Saban judged him as being about 80 percent recovered. Culpepper was able to throw on the move during the three-day minicamp, scrambled out of the pocket several times, and even threw himself on a fumble when a shotgun snap was errant.

Culpepper expressed optimism during minicamp that he would be ready for the start of the season. But the Dolphins have steadfastly avoided making such predictions and Saban hasn't even said yet when, or how much, he will use Culpepper in the preseason.

"I can't make any predictions because I've told you from the beginning we're making these evaluations on a day-to-day basis as to his workload and what he is capable of doing," Saban said. "When the games come, we'll make those determinations. For me to speculate on that now wouldn't be fair to anybody."

The health of Culpepper is critical, of course, to the Dolphins' playoff aspirations. Miami won its final six outings in 2005 to finish at 9-7 in Saban's first season as an NFL head coach. Some pundits feel Miami has the potential to unseat New England as the division champion. Having a healthy Culpepper, who posted one of the best statistical seasons in league history in 2004, would be a big step.

Miami opens camp with two Saturday practices.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.