Sacramento Mountain Lions still uncertain of Culpepper?s return

Mountain Lions vs. Nighthawks thumb::

Mountain Lions vs. Nighthawks thumb::

AJ Taylor

The Mountain Lions saw the highs and the lows of football in 2010. Tied for both the worst first half record (1-3) and the best second half record (3-1) in the United Football League, the team could not have come any closer to the UFL Championship game.

The team took two one-point losses. The first came during week three against the Omaha Nighthawks, the Mountain Lions lost 18-17.

The second against the Hartford Colonials in week seven, the Mountain Lions lost 28-27.

Now in 2011, the Mountain Lions are working to build on their second half success and this time make it to the championship game.

“With any team in any sport the biggest thing is having chemistry,” said Maurice Crum, Mountain Lions’ linebacker. “It’s just timing on the field. For our quarterback and receivers: knowing how fast is this guy, or with my defensive linemen to get a better two gapper, playing off of each other, you pick it up through the season. We didn’t have a bunch of new people but we had some new pieces, new faces, and it takes time for that to gel. I think we peaked one game too late.”

It took time for the Mountain Lions to grow accustomed to playing with each other. After seeing each team during the first half of the season, the Mountain Lions were able to become more familiar with their own system and their opponent’s.

“Having players who know the offense, know the system, know what Dennis Green is all about,” said Otis Amey, Mountain Lions receiver and Sacramento State alumnus. “The more players we bring back, the easier it will be for us to move forward and win games early and get into that Championship.”

Former NFL Pro-Bowler Daunte Culpepper quarterbacked the Mountain Lions through both halves of last season.

But the Mountain Lion’s front office has yet to sign Culpepper to a new contract.

Culpepper helped lead the Mountain Lions to the second best completion percentage (59.3 percent) in the UFL in 2010.

The Mountain Lions also led the UFL in receiving yards with 1,229 and receptions with 124.

On the other hand, Culpepper threw for as many interceptions (7) as he did touchdowns. With Culpepper taking the majority of the snaps, the Mountain Lions’ cumulative passer rating was the second lowest in the league (73.2).

But head coach Dennis Green and the Mountain Lions front office are still working to bring Culpepper back.

“We’re hoping to have Daunte back,” Green said, “And I think our guys are now familiar with him. His expectations are very high.”

Returning players and prospective players all want Culpepper back as well.

His NFL experience and leadership are seen as rare commodities in a league that has only been around since 2009.

“Just knowing that you’re playing with a guy who threw 60 70-yard bombs to Randy Moss and was a Pro-Bowl, NFL, player, you soak in everything that he says and learn from him,” Amey said. “You gain confidence in him telling you that you’re running the routes right.”

Amey, who has spent time with the 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, caught 16 passes for 148 yards for the Mountain Lions last season. He missed much of the 2010 season due to an ankle injury.

Amey is now playing for the Arena Football League’s San Jose Sabercats alongside Sac State alumni McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Juan Gamboa.

Amey says the style of play in the AFL, which is very different from that of traditional football, is helping him prepare for the Mountain Lions season in a unique way.

In the AFL the field is only 50 yards, the boundaries of the field are marked by four feet high padded walls, and the width of the field is only 85 feet compared with the NFL’s 160 feet.

“I’m learning how to always catch the ball with someone right there on me,” Amey said. “In the outdoor game you can get wide open, you can do that in arena too but it’s rare. So I’m learning how to use angles in my routes, the wall is there the field is small, so in order to get open you really have to know the game and be able to use your angles and catch the ball and tuck it in quickly.”

The Mountain Lions fell just short of their goal of making it to the championship game last season, but they refused to lose the sentiment.

“I think we were all disappointed that we didn’t get to the championship game,” Green said. “But we knew that we had put ourselves in that situation. We really had a chance to be 4-0 (in the second half) and we were 3-1. You make the bed and you have to sleep in it. And we’re hoping to do a better job of making the bed this year.”

You can reach AJ Taylor at [email protected]