A docile duel -- for now

At minicamp, both Raiders quarterbacks play it cool

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. That, essentially, was the harmonious, what's-all-the-fuss message sent Tuesday by Rich Gannon and Kerry Collins -- the two Raiders quarterbacks with Super Bowl resumes and the simultaneous belief that each is an NFL starter.

Just not for the Raiders.

Gannon, Collins and coach Norv Turner all used the first day of the team's voluntary minicamp to emphasize that Gannon is the Raiders' starting passer, as he has been since his arrival in 1999.

And that Collins is a backup -- as he hasn't been since '99, when he was behind Kent Graham of the New York Giants.

That was one 4,000-yard and two 3,000-yard passing seasons ago for 31-year-old Collins.

"I don't really need anybody to come in to make me work harder to compete against, to help me focus or challenge myself," said Gannon, 38. "I'm going to be as hard on myself as anybody. So I don't know if you guys are trying to create something more than there really is."

In the Raiders' morning practice, Gannon and Collins each threw about 35 passes -- 20 of which were 15 yards or shorter -- on scrimmage plays.

Gannon's sharp passing again gave more credence to his reiteration that he is fully healed from November surgery on his passing shoulder. The injury that led to his surgery, in last season's seventh game, effectively doomed the Raiders to an abysmal 4-12 season that ended with them trying to win with fifth-stringer Tee Martin.

It also led the Raiders to Collins, as insurance for 2004 and as the likely starter for 2005 -- given that Collins on Tuesday confirmed that the team has guaranteed $3.5 million of a $4.7 base salary scheduled for '05.

After Tuesday's first practice, Turner hinted at why the team did that.

"He's really good. He's got a big arm," the coach said of Collins. "Hey, you're talking about a guy who has taken a team to the Super Bowl. He's an awfully talented player."

Collins said he probably would have signed elsewhere last month had there been a starting job available, even if it was only for one season. With none to be had, Collins remains fully aware that his place is behind Gannon -- for now.

"There is no controversy, if that is what you're asking," Collins said. "I certainly feel that I'm a starting quarterback in this league, but that isn't my role here.

"That's the way it is. That's the way it's going to remain."

Gannon confirmed that a Raiders executive contacted him before Collins' signing to explain the move.

And Gannon's reaction?

"I mean, I don't know what people think, but I do have some intelligence," he said. "I am 38 years old, you know.

"I think that they looked at what happened a year ago when I did get hurt, and they probably felt like they needed to continue to try and improve that position. And so it made a lot of sense to me. It didn't surprise me at all."

Gannon and Collins each went so far to say that all is well in what should still prove to be an awkward coexistence, and they all but joined hands and hummed "Kumbaya."

But that I'm-OK, you're-OK vibe vanished once Gannon was asked about having to compete for the starting job during training camp, which begins July 30 in Napa.

"It sounds like to me, you want to create it to be (a competition). But for me, it really isn't," Gannon said curtly. "I'm a very confident guy who knows what he can do. I think my work's out there for everybody to see."

For now, Turner said the preseason will begin with Gannon and Collins splitting practice repetitions evenly.

"(Then) you'll see it, as we get closer to the regular-season games, it will go the other way," Turner said. "And obviously, Rich will get a lot more of the reps."

When asked if he and the team discussed restructuring his $7 million base salary for this season -- something Gannon has claimed he will only do if that sum is redistributed into a new signing bonus -- Gannon said, "Have I had any? Not that I know of."

Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP, also defined what he sees as the only just result of having two Super Bowl-veteran quarterbacks on the same roster.

"The only thing the team can do to be right by me is let the best man play," he said. "I think the organization knows what I can do. The facts are out there. You look at the four years I've been here before I got hurt -- if you look at my durability, it's never been an issue, other than the fluke injury I had a year ago.

"I plan on taking every snap, like I always do."

Turner excused all players over 30 years old from the camp, but Gannon, Collins, fullback Zack Crockett, tackle Brad Badger and cornerback Denard Walker are here, anyway.
6/23/04

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