McCown reportedly to start; officially, Raiders mum on QB nod

Updated: September 6, 2007, 7:41 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland head coach Lane Kiffin remained silent Wednesday about who will be his starting quarterback when the Raiders face the Detroit Lions on Sunday. But sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.com's Michael Smith Wednesday that Josh McCown will get the starting nod.

McCown took all of the snaps in practice Wednesday with the first team, marking the second straight day he's done so, Smith reports. Additionally, McCown has been in Oakland working in the offense longer, and it doesn't look like free-agent veteran Daunte Culpepper's performance has overcome that familiarity with the playbook.

Kiffin said he told the quarterbacks who won the job on Tuesday and that the rest of the team found out during practice Wednesday. Like many NFL teams, the Raiders close most of practice to the media, leaving it up to his players to keep the big secret.

"It's simply a matter of always trying to gain a competitive advantage," Kiffin said.

On Thursday, Raiders owner Al Davis piped in with his own opinion of who should be the team's starter.

"Should be? He may be in Mobile," Davis said, referring to the hometown of No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell, before heading out to watch practice.

It's clear the starter won't be Russell, who remains out in a dispute over how much of his contract should be guaranteed. Although USA Today quoted Russell's uncle Thursday as saying a contract was "almost done," the Raiders say nothing is close at this point.

"I wouldn't really pay attention to what someone's uncle said about the negotiation process," Kiffin said. "I know our people are dealing with JaMarcus' agents. And like I said before, there is some progress being made."

Russell's agent, Eric Metz, has not publicly commented on the talks.

Russell's absence is the longest for a top pick since Bo Jackson sat out the entire 1986 season after being drafted first overall by Tampa Bay. Jackson chose to play baseball instead, and that contract dispute worked out well for the Raiders.

Jackson went back into the draft the following year and Davis took a chance by using a seventh-round pick on the running back. Jackson joined the Raiders for the second half of the 1987 season and ran for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns before a hip injury in a playoff game in January 1991 ended his football career.

Receiver Jerry Porter threw out names of various former Raiders quarterbacks, ranging from Vince Evans to Donald Hollis to Jeff George, but wouldn't give up the real answer about who Oakland's starter would be.

"He's not being secretive with us," Porter said. "He's just not telling you. It's a different situation. In the past, you guys have known who the starter is from Day 1, no competition, no anything."

But this year the job was wide open from the start of training camp. McCown and Andrew Walter entered as the two players competing for the job, but the Raiders signed Culpepper a week into camp when it became clear Russell wouldn't sign anytime soon.

The three shared time fairly equally for the first three exhibition games, before Kiffin announced the competition had been narrowed down to McCown and Culpepper. Those two got the bulk of the playing time in the final exhibition game, with neither standing out enough to win the job.

Kiffin hinted Tuesday he might reveal his decision the following day, but has decided to keep the secret to force the Lions to prepare for two possible starters.

"If our coaches think this gives us an advantage, then by all means you do it," McCown said. "If it doesn't, then who cares? No big deal, no harm done, other than some family members that wanted to know. Other than that it's no big deal. I'm all for it as long as it can possibly help us."

McCown admitted he told his wife the decision Tuesday night, but said he hadn't told anybody else. Culpepper wouldn't even acknowledge knowing who the starter will be.

"I don't know the deal. I'm just working," Culpepper said. "I've said from the beginning that no matter what my role, I'm going to help the team as much as I can."

Both quarterbacks have their strengths, but McCown knows the offense better because he joined the team three months earlier than Culpepper. He also does a better job protecting the football, an important attribute because Kiffin has stressed that he will rely heavily on his defense.

Culpepper has more big-play ability, throwing 39 TD passes in 2004 when he was in Minnesota. He has been slowed by knee injuries the past two seasons, when he has committed 18 turnovers while throwing only 18 TD passes.

The Lions say it really isn't a big deal which QB they face because they know both well. McCown spent last year as a backup in Detroit and Culpepper has played against the Lions and their coach, Rod Marinelli, many times during his career.

"Really it doesn't [matter] in a certain way," Marinelli said. "Why I say that is, both are very good veteran players: both right-handed, both can run the boot, both move around very well, both have great arms, they're savvy veterans. So you prepare for one, you prepare for both."

The Raiders also have not announced their starting center, with last year's starter Jake Grove competing with former Pro Bowler Jeremy Newberry for the spot.

"You guys will know on Sunday when we go out on the field," Newberry said of both spots.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.