Saban Confident in Culpepper's Ability

Dolphins coach Nick Saban took a big risk in trading for Daunte Culpepper, but he's used to the gambles on big names. See what the coach has been saying about the move. Plus, the Rams are looking more like the Vikings each week.

As proven by last year's successful courtship of tailback Ricky Williams, Dolphins coach Nick Saban isn't afraid of taking chances.

But Saban has taken an even bigger gamble by acquiring quarterback Daunte Culpepper from Minnesota for a 2006 second-round draft choice.

If things with Williams didn't work out, Saban could have released him without a major salary cap hit. Plus, Saban had the security of knowing a capable replacement (Ronnie Brown) already was on Miami's roster.

It won't be that simple if Culpepper doesn't pan out.

There is no question that Culpepper was considered one of the NFL's top signal-callers after a 2004 season that saw him throw for 4,717 yards with 39 touchdowns. But Culpepper's 2005 season was so rough on and off the field that it led to the end of his seven-year tenure with a Vikings franchise that had considered him their cornerstone player.

Culpepper had thrown 12 interceptions and just six touchdown passes through the first seven games before tearing three knee ligaments in a loss to Carolina. Culpepper then infuriated Vikings management by doing his rehabilitation outside of team headquarters and getting arrested on misdemeanor charges of indecent behavior, disorderly conduct and lewdness after an incident last October on two charter boats outside Minneapolis.

Saban, though, is confident that Culpepper can put 2005 behind him. So confident that Miami agreed to a restructuring of Culpepper's contract that paid the quarterback a $7 million signing bonus with a $1 million base for 2006.

"We felt this was something that we just absolutely could not pass up," Saban said. "Daunte has had an outstanding career. His team, as well as himself, had a few bumps in the road this past season.

"I don't think there's anything that I need to say about that other than the fact we're going to be very supportive in every way of him and also put it back in perspective for everyone. Here's a guy that's had a character quality career. He's been a leader in the community as well as on his team. Obviously, we've all done something on some occasion in our life that we regret and wish we wouldn't have done. I'm guilty of that. Maybe some others are as well. I certainly feel like this is the case in this circumstance."

Saban had better be right, as the Dolphins released 2005 starter Gus Frerotte last Tuesday and lost backup Sage Rosenfels to the Houston Texans. Frerotte has subsequently agreed to sign with St. Louis, where he will be reunited with former Dolphins offensive coordinator and new Rams coach Scott Linehan.

With unproven Cleo Lemon currently the team's only other quarterback option, Miami is expected to pursue another veteran in free agency in case Culpepper isn't ready to start the season.

Culpepper, though, said he would be ready to play come the season opener on September 10.

"I don't have to be ready til the season starts, but I definitely will be ready without a doubt," Culpepper said in an ESPN interview.

  • The St. Louis Rams promised to move quickly in free agency and they did, making several moves to improve a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL last season, and one of those moves including signing former Vikings safety Corey Chavous and the top weakside linebacker in free agency.

    The linchpin to the moves is expected to be linebacker Will Witherspoon, who was signed the day after free agency started and received an immediate ticket to play in the middle. That surprised some, but Rams coach Scott Linehan said it's a natural spot for Witherspoon, who had some experience there filling in for an injured Dan Morgan in Carolina.

    "It's a good spot for a guy who runs around and makes all the tackles," Linehan said. "In the scheme we're going to run, both of them (weakside and middle linebackers) need to basically be mirror images of each other."

    Witherspoon said he welcomes being in the middle of the action.

    "My productivity stayed up," Witherspoon said of his time with the Panthers. "Nothing changed there. I had a great time playing in the middle in Carolina. I know exactly what it's going to take. I know you've got to just change your mind-set a little bit from week to week. That's all."

    In a short period of time, during which where the Rams signed older players like safety Corey Chavous, Witherspoon has played only four seasons.

    The Rams made two acquisitions for their secondary in the first week of free agency, signing Chavous and New Orleans cornerback Fakhir Brown.

    While offensive coordinator for the Vikings, coach Scott Linehan spent three years with Chavous in Minnesota.

    "Obviously, I'm pretty sold and convinced that the guy can do it," Linehan said. "And I think he felt the same way about coming to play for us. Having a prior relationship with these players is important. It certainly doesn't hurt."

    Speaking of prior relationships, Brown played for new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett in New Orleans.

    And quarterback Gus Frerotte received a three-year deal to be the backup to Marc Bulger. Frerotte played for Linehan in both Minnesota and Miami.

  • Running back Chester Taylor's reason to bolt from the Ravens to the Minnesota Vikings could have come down to more than finances. He signed a four-year, $14.1 million deal with the Vikings (includes $5.6 million in guaranteed money) after turning down a five-year, $17 million offer from the Ravens on Friday.

    At his news conference in Minnesota, Taylor admitted he needed a "fresh start" after being a backup with the Ravens for four years.

    "Just standing on the sideline was killing me a little bit but I did what I had to do for them," Taylor said. "I'll give this team my best now that I'm here."

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