QB is recovered from back fractures

When the undefeated Minnesota Vikings resume play on Oct. 19, quarterback Daunte Culpepper will return to his starting job, head coach Mike Tice revealed.

Sidelined the last two games by a back injury, Culpepper worked pain-free at practices late this week and demonstrated no rustiness. So impressive was the fifth-year veteran that Tice acknowledged there was little reason to delay an announcement on his status.

"He was so good," Tice said, "I'm already announcing he'll start against Denver (on Oct. 19). I was shocked. I thought the kid needed another day off, but he ran out on the field like Willis Reed, and he was great. He's back."

Culpepper, 26, fractured three transverse process bones in his lower back during a Sept. 21 victory at Detroit. He was replaced for two games, victories over San Francisco and Atlanta, by veteran journeyman Gus Frerotte.

Frerotte played well in both contests, completing 38 of 64 passes for 690 yards, with seven touchdown passes and two interceptions and a passer rating of 119.9. Although his passer rating is superior to that of the starter, Frerotte reiterated several times that there was no quarterback controversy.

"This is Daunte's team and I'm just keeping the (position) warm for him," Frerotte said.

In the two games Culpepper did not play, he served as the No. 2 quarterback. Culpepper took part in pregame warmups both weeks and, had Frerotte been injured, Culpepper likely would have replaced him.

The basic treatment for fractured transverse process bones is rest, and Culpepper has been intentionally limited in practices during the weeks in which he did not play. But he was able to get through workouts, including some running drills, this week.

In three starts, Culpepper has completed 42 of 69 passes for 514 yards. He has five touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 108.0 passer rating.