ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -Mike Shanahan wants to help the Oakland Raiders resolve their quarterback quandary: Why not start JaMarcus Russell on Sunday?
``If they're paying him that kind of money, they should throw him into the fire and put him in against the Broncos,'' the Denver coach said.
Shanahan was kidding, of course. Russell, the top pick in last April's draft who recently ended his holdout, has barely even seen the practice field.
But eventually, a young quarterback has to get in there. That's why Shanahan went with Jay Cutler for the final five games last season, just to give him a taste of what was ahead.
``I think the more experience you have, the better off you are,'' Shanahan said.
Cutler looked poised Sunday against the Bills as he led the Broncos down the field to set up Jason Elam's game-winning field goal.
He's now 46 game-saving drives behind Hall of Famer John Elway.
Even more, Cutler earned his teammates' trust.
``I probably gained a little bit more respect,'' Cutler said. ``I'm still young, still with inexperience. But maybe I earned a few more points from (teammates).''
Russell recently ended his 48-day contract dispute with the Raiders. And while he's finally joined the team, he's behind. Way behind. When, or if, he plays is up in the air.
``We can't simulate what he missed. That's put him in a tough situation,'' Oakland first-year coach Lane Kiffin said. ``We'll take him as far as we can, one day at a time.''
The Raiders started Josh McCown in a 36-21 loss to Detroit. They may have to hand the reins over to Daunte Culpepper if McCown can't go Sunday because of foot and finger injuries.
Denver is preparing for both, just in case.
``You have to study a little more,'' cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``To me, they're pretty similar.''
It hasn't taken long for Cutler to get up to speed in the Broncos' system. He looked comfortable at the helm against Buffalo, completing 23 of 39 passes for 304 yards against the Bills.
``Not bad for your first start of the year,'' said Mike Heimerdinger, the Broncos' assistant head coach/offense. ``Not much upsets Jay. He's the same if things are going good, he's the same if things are going bad. He's the same person all the time.''
He wasn't nervous when Denver took over at its own 34 with 2:13 remaining, trailing 14-12. He went about his business of leading the Broncos down the field, even converting two fourth-down situations - including one on a quarterback sweep - to keep the drive going.
Asked if he liked high-pressure situations, Cutler just smiled and said, ``Sure.''
``I would rather be up by 20 at the end, but that's what the quarterback position is all about,'' said Cutler, the 11th overall pick in 2006. ``I'm happy. It wasn't picture perfect, but we made some plays.''
Cutler certainly caught Kiffin's eye.
``I sure thought he played well,'' he said. ``He isn't afraid to throw it anywhere. I'm sure he's going to be a great quarterback in this league.''
Shanahan thinks highly of Russell as well, even if he has yet to play an NFL down. Russell was 25-4 as LSU's starting quarterback.
``He's a very talented athlete,'' Shanahan said. ``He's going to have a great future. It takes time.''
Not to mention repetitions. The Raiders are hoping to ease Russell into the system.
``He needs to learn the offense,'' running back Lamont Jordan said. ``Right now, when I look up, Daunte's in the huddle. So that's my main concern.''
The Raiders signed Culpepper in July as a backup option. The three-time Pro Bowler has been plagued by knee injuries the past two seasons in Miami and Minnesota.
``Regardless of what the circumstances are, we have a job to do and we have to do it,'' Jordan said.
Still, Jordan is pleased to see Russell signed and in practice.
``Especially if he's going to be the quarterback of the future,'' he said.
The Broncos believe they have found their quarterback of the future. Cutler is already being compared to Elway - an occupational hazard for a quarterback in Denver.
``It's great, isn't it? They get excited out here about football,'' Cutler said. ``To win a game like that, obviously there'll be comparisons with John because he did it so many times here. But I'm so far from that level yet.''

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