Collins still being the Leader

Kerry Collins insists he's still the leader of the Oakland Raiders. His understudy, Marques Tuiasosopo, agrees. But that hasn't quelled rising criticism of Collins or the increasing calls from critics and fans for a change to be made.

Collins will be the Raiders' starter Sunday when the team heads to San Diego for a night game against the Chargers. Oakland's quarterback has thrown for the third-most passing yards in the NFL this season but has come under heavy scrutiny as of late as the Raiders' offense has continued to struggle.

Collins has thrown six interceptions in his last three games and has shouldered the brunt of criticism as Oakland's season has gone up in flames. As he has been in almost every home game this season, Collins was booed forcefully by Raider fans throughout the team's 33-21 loss to Miami this past week. Toward the end of the game chants for Tuiasosopo and rookie Andrew Walter filled the air at McAfee Coliseum.

On Wednesday, Collins said he understood the criticism but said any talk of a quarterback change is premature.

''In my mind, there's really no reason to talk about it,'' Collins said. ''I'm going to come to work this week and get ready to play the ballgame. Those things are irrelevant until they become relevant. When they do I'll deal with it in a professional manner.

''This is my team. I expect to be in there as long as I'm healthy. This is part of what being a quarterback is all about. There are going to be times when things are not going well and people are going to try to get other people in there. But my program is the same. All I know is I'm going to have a good practice today and I'm going to play hard this weekend and see where things fall. Whatever I do I'll keep my head high and be professional about it.''

Tuiasosopo, a second-round draft pick in 2001, has started just one game in five NFL seasons. That lone start came in 2003 against Detroit but lasted less than one half. Tuiasosopo was injured late in the first quarter and tried to stay in but eventually left with what turned out to be a torn ligament in his left knee.

Contrary to published reports, Tuiaosopo cannot exercise an option in his contract to become a free agent at season's end. He would need to meet certain playing time incentives to do so and would have to play the rest of the season as Oakland's starter to even come close to reaching those incentives.

Thus this week Tuiasosopo said the talk about a quarterback is much ado about nothing.

''We can sit here and focus on a lot of things but it doesn't get me anywhere and it doesn't get anyone anywhere,'' Tuiasosopo said Wednesday. ''I'm just preparing to be ready when I'm called. The biggest thing is don't worry about things out of your control. That's what matters. There are a lot of ways you can go with (this). I choose not to do that.

''No question it's still Kerry's team. Kerry's played well enough to help us win. I think everyone in this locker room would agree this is a team game based on how we all do. Obviously as quarterbacks we get a lot of praise, too much praise, and we probably get too much blame. Kerry understands that the best. He's probably had chances to tank it but the guy's stuck in there and he's played hard. I've got a lot of respect for Kerry. As far as I'm concerned, he's still the guy.''

NOTES

* One day after signing cornerback Lenny Walls, the Raiders released the veteran defensive back after he failed a team physical. Walls said he told Raiders' senior personnel executive Mike Lombardi beforehand that he doubted he could play this week against the Chargers due to a lingering groin injury but that Oakland signed him anyway.

''I told Mike yesterday on the phone that I didn't feel like I could play this week. I'm not 100 percent,'' Walls said as he cleaned out his belongings and exited the team's facilities. ''He said 'We'll see how you do in practice. We still want to bring you in.' I guess it wasn't satisfactory. I wasn't as close as they wanted to be.''

* Oakland signed safety Calvin Branch to their 53-man roster, taking Walls' spot.


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