OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -After three preseason games, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin still doesn't appear to be much closer to picking a starting quarterback.
At least Kiffin can be reasonably certain that Oakland's defense is on its way to another solid season.
Coordinator Rob Ryan's defense was the only acceptable aspect of the Raiders' 2-14 campaign in 2006, and the unit appeared to be just as strong in Oakland's 20-10 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Friday night.
With Kiffin and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp devoting their time to figuring out the Raiders' once-feeble offense, the defense has remained a source of encouragement for the NFL's youngest head coach.
``We need to establish a personality and an identity, and I really liked our aggressiveness,'' Kiffin said. ``When we do things right on defense, it's hard to move the ball on us.''
Much of the starting lineup is back on a defense that managed to post respectable statistics despite repeatedly being put into tough situations by one of the worst offenses in NFL history.
The unit appears to be back in form after limiting the Rams' first-team offense - minus Stephen Jackson and Torry Holt, of course - to 147 yards in the first half, and just three points in the first three quarters.
But the defensive players aren't getting excited just yet.
``Last year, we had all these high expectations and high hopes, and we never brought that into the regular season,'' linebacker Kirk Morrison said. ``For the preseason, this is OK, but we've been down this road last year. We were 4-1 in the preseason, and then we felt like we couldn't do anything when the season started. We need to take this in the season this time.''
With the defense humming along, Kiffin is free to fret about the identity of his starting quarterback. Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown both received praise Saturday from the coach, who also said Andrew Walter still has a shot at the job.
Though Kiffin said he expects to name a starter before the regular season begins, he has yet to decide who will start Thursday's preseason finale at Seattle.
``I'm going to take a couple more days on it, and obviously go one way or another,'' Kiffin said. ``There's a lot of variables in it, and the major one is the difference of time frame, how long Daunte has been here and how fast he progresses. You've got to sit down and look into a lot of things.''
Culpepper looked sharp as the starter against the Rams, but Kiffin thinks the veteran is ``still not playing as fast as we want him to'' while learning the Raiders' system on the fly. He signed with Oakland as a free agent on July 31, around the time it became clear that No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell wouldn't agree to a contract anytime soon.
In another possible indication of Kiffin's thinking, the coach said McCown played ``almost perfect'' football, going 6-of-9 for 138 yards. Two of McCown's incompletions were on balls dropped by receiver Mike Williams, highlighting a recurring problem for the Raiders offense in recent years.
``It's very discouraging, and probably the most discouraging thing going on right now is the drops,'' Kiffin said. ``And not only on offense, we're not catching the ball on defense, either. They're throwing us turnovers, and we're not catching them. ... We have great confidence in them, and we expect them to make those plays.''

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