New Raiders QB Daunte Culpepper pauses during morning workouts at Napa.
New Raiders QB Daunte Culpepper pauses during morning workouts at Napa. (Associated Press)
NAPA — If there are a million stories in the naked city, there must be at least half a million working at any one time in Al Davis' mind.

Davis offered his thoughts on myriad subjects Wednesday at the Oakland Raiders' training camp — the death of Bill Walsh, a national quarterbacks award in honor of Walsh, Jim Otto's recent leg amputation, a developing NFL plan to help retired players, why Randy Moss failed as a Raider and much more.

Davis really should step out and speak more often, because catching up on all that he has on his brain really can be overwhelming to process.

All of his topical tangents that consumed more than an hour on this day had merit, but as they say, if the greatness of the Raiders is in its future, the most topical subject on which Davis spoke was about his quarterbacks ... currently, all four of'em.

It might seem like a mess, but honestly, I really believe the Raiders — specifically, Davis and coach Lane Kiffin — have it reasonably together on their four-headedquarterback monster with JaMarcus Russell, Josh McCown, Andrew Walter and now Daunte Culpepper.

Yes, it might be just the right time to roll the dice with Culpepper. Yes, the Raiders are smart to protect their financial interests on Russell's contract, even if it means the No.1 pick showing up way late. Yes, there is good reason to believe Walter needs a confidence retrofit after last year's shellshock experience. And yes, while McCown may possess some of the attributes of Rich Gannon, there is reason to be wary whether he has the right stuff.


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The key is that the Raiders have some legitimate options now, as opposed to last year when they essentially had none — emergency free-agent plug-in Aaron Brooks, an untested Walter and a too-often recycled Marques Tuiasosopo. It wasn't nearly enough, and Davis realized that.

"We've always had a lot of quarterbacks around, and in recent years we stopped that," Davis said. "Then the minute someone got hurt, we found ourselves in trouble."

Last year wasn't the only debacle on that count. Davis himself recalled 2003, when Gannon was injured in the team's seventh game. The Raiders were forced to go with Tuiasosopo, and he got hurt as well, leaving the QB duties to the ill-equipped Rick Mirer.

It actually got even worse before that 4-12 season was over, as the Raiders turned to Rob Johnson and even Tee Martin without success.

This year's cast is much more reminiscent of 1980, when the Raiders also had a rookie first-round QB draft pick, Marc Wilson. But for that season, they pinned their hopes on deep-throwing Dan Pastorini, who had been acquired for Ken Stabler. Jim Plunkett, who had been on the team in 1979, was the backup.

Of course, Pastorini broke his leg in an early game, Plunkett came in, and the rest is illustrious history.

Davis can't get the Plunkett success out of his head, and it's clear he hopes he can catch lightning in a bottle with Culpepper, who is burning with motivation to show the rest of the NFL what he really has.

"We're going to go slow with him," Davis said. "But he was a great talent. Whether we can get it back or not, it's worth the chance."

Can't disagree. As for Russell's contract holdout, Davis clarified what the problem is, the problem deductive people had already figured out — it's not about the signing-bonus money, but rather the language in the contract that would allow the Raiders to recoup cash in the event Russell has some sort of Michael Vick-like wig-out down the line.

The Denver Broncos were forced to pay more than $600,000 to former receiver Ashley Lelie — withheld during a holdout — as the result of an arbitrator's ruling last year. So Davis wants protection as a result.

"The two things I'm always concerned about are forfeiture and accountability," he said. "Whenever we give a bonus or money to a rookie — and with the Lelie decision in court — option bonuses are very tough to get the money back, if some player doesn't show up, or some player wants to hold out, or a player tells the coach go to hell.

"Our only problem with the JaMarcus Russell contract is they want all the money as an option bonus, and I will not do that," he added. "It's not the money. That's ridiculous."

It's unlikely the Culpepper signing was used as leverage against Russell, because Russell probably wasn't going to open the season as the starter anyway. His holdout actually might relieve the pressure on Kiffin to get Russell in as soon as possible, and allow Culpepper, McCown or Walter to show their stuff. It'll be better for Russell, too ... he can watch instead of getting pummeled.

The educated guess here is that McCown will still be the starter at season's outset, with Culpepper as Option 1A if McCown flops. Walter's strictly a backup at this point. Russell? He'll get here soon enough and still have a long career. Not to worry.

The bigger worry is which of these quarterbacks ultimately can get the job done ... or whether any can. But one thing can't be denied: The test cases are infinitely more intriguing.

Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at csteward@angnewspapers.com.