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Culpepper puts past behind him

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

Daunte Culpepper wants you to forget. In fact, he is determined to make us all forget the embarrassment that was the 2001 Vikings season.

Remember all the bickering among teammates? Remember Randy Moss' apathy? Remember the 5-11 record?

Culpepper, whose 2001 season was frustrating when he missed the last five games because of injury, was outstanding in this preseason and is poised to make everyone forget last season.

"Daunte has never played any better. He has never been more aware than he is now. I want to see a quarterback anywhere on film playing better," coach Mike Tice said. "He's doing everything right. He's out of the pocket, when necessary, at the right time. He's making good decisions on reads. He knows how to get us out of a bad play."

In the preseason, Culpepper was 30-for-47 for 392 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"The one thing I really think focused him was when he got injured last year," tight end Byron Chamberlain said. "Having the ability to step back and look at our team, our offense, from the outside. He saw how much we need him in our offense, how much he controls the tempo of the offense. He has come in and taken a leadership role. He's been incredible."

Heathly and feeling rejuvenated, Culpepper is expecting big things this season, perhaps even bigger than 1999, when he threw for nearly 4,000 yards to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl.

"You don't want to talk records and stuff," he said, "but it could be scary, man. Scary."

TRIVIA QUESTION: Gus Frerotte will be the fifth Bengals quarterback in as many seasons to open the regular season as the starter. Name the other four.

HANGING ON TO THE ROCK: The Broncos love rookie running back Clinton Portis. The former Hurricanes star might be the starter this season.

The one thing that could put Portis on the sideline is fumbling. At Miami he had at least one game each season in which he fumbled two or more times.

In Denver's first three preseason games, he had four fumbles. Still the Broncos love him. For now.

"It's a learning experience for him," coach Mike Shanahan said. "You want it to happen in preseason games, not the regular season, and he'll keep on getting better and better. I think everybody sees what type of speed and what type of running back he is."

TENNESSEE HAT TRICK: Titans quarterback Steve McNair has had all sorts of problems this year. With hats.

The league, which has an apparel contract with Reebok, says he can't wear a Nike hat or visor on the sideline. And McNair's Nike contract stipulates he can't wear Reebok garb.

"So I'm just going to do without," McNair said. "So, no more hats."

IF THE SHOE FITS: Redskins coach Steve Spurrier has quickly become the poster child for arrogance in the NFL. Asked if he thinks people view Ravens coach Brian Billick as a know-it-all, Ravens owner Art Modell said, "Compared to Steve Spurrier, he's mild."

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: From newly signed receiver Darnay Scott, about how much tougher practices are with the Jaguars than his old team, the Bengals: "It was a lot more laid-back in Cincinnati, although that's probably why we didn't win many games."

BRIAN WHO?: The NFL released the list of top-selling jerseys. The top dog isn't Marshall Faulk or Randy Moss or Keyshawn Johnson. Believe it or not, it's Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. The jerseys of Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson and Falcons quarterback Michael Vick are expected to be hot items in the regular season and could unseat Urlacher.

DID YOU KNOW?: The Lions could use some wins this season. Bad. Since the start of preseason a year ago, Detroit is 4-20.

DID YOU KNOW II?: Last season Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer had 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, the first time in his career he had more TD passes than picks.

A GOOD PRESEASON: The Jets went into their preseason finale Friday undefeated at 3-0, and beat the Eagles 23-16. The last time the Jets went undefeated in the preseason (4-0 in '97) they went 9-7 in the regular season.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Jon Kitna (2001), Akili Smith (2000), Jeff Blake (1999) and Neil O'Donnell (1998).

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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