Inside Slant 08.14.2006...

Angry Pope

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Inside Slant

Tom Walsh and Rob Ryan have spoken.

That's news in itself, considering Walsh had not received clearance to speak to the media since being hired by Art Shell in February and Ryan hadn't spoken about the performance of his defense since Sept. 12, 2004.

Walsh was Shell's surprise choice as offensive coordinator. He hadn't coached in the NFL since leaving the Raiders staff the same time as Shell in 1994 and hadn't coached at all since 1999.

He was doing some analysis for college football games, helping Sega design football video games, running a bed and breakfast in Swan Valley, Idaho, and serving as the town's mayor.

But Shell and Walsh had remained friends, and Shell promised that if he ever got another head coaching job, Walsh would come with him.

He is restoring an offense as one would a 1956 Chevy, getting the Raiders back to their roots of power running, play-action passing and striking with a vertical passing game.

"I don't feel like I've been in retirement at all," Walsh said to a group of reporters. "It's not like I've been in mothballs."

Walsh stressed that it was not "his" offense. Shell referred to it as the "Al Davis offense," and Walsh traced its roots back to Sid Gillman.

"My roots in this system go back to Sid Gillman, who was the head coach when Al was first coaching with the Los Angeles Chargers in 1960," Walsh said. "No disrespect to any other coach out there past, present or future, but the majority of what you see in the game today has some form or element and the same thing Al was doing when he was coaching for Sid.

"Power off-tackle, throwing the ball downfield, those traditions have come down for decades. We have to get back to that. There's no fancy way about it. We're not going to come out and finesse people."

Left tackle Robert Gallery was unconcerned about Walsh's time away from the game, given that Shell hired him.

"If coach Shell hired him, he hired him for a reason," Gallery said. "I'm totally on board with coach Shell. If he hired Santa Claus I wouldn't question it."

Ryan, entering his third year, was given a contract extension before Shell was hired.

He was reportedly being courted by the New York Jets and coach Eric Mangini, who had worked with Ryan in New England. Ryan said he was "not very" close to leaving.

"I want to be here, and I love working for the Raiders," Ryan said. "I can't wait to win for the Raiders. That's why I'm here. I appreciated Mr. Davis doing that for me, and I'm not going to let him down. This is the year to show up. We're not going to talk about doing it. We're just going to play great ball."

Ranked 32nd in scoring defense in 2004, the Raiders were only 25th in 2005. However, unlike in past years, when players often rolled their eyes at some of the coaching staff when things went bad, it never happened under Ryan.

"There were some games where he'd stand up and say, `Hey, I called a bad game,'" free safety Stuart Schweigert said. "That's really nice to see as a player to show some accountability and responsibility, that he's not putting it off on the players. He's not going to throw any of us under the bus. It's nice to have a defensive coordinator in your corner."

CAMP CALENDAR: Raiders opened camp July 25. Practices are closed to the public except for selected guests and youth groups. Only two days of double-sessions remain - Aug. 16 and 17. Camp scheduled to break Aug. 23, before fourth of five pre-season games.

NOTES, QUOTES

—As if being "Mr. Irrelevant" as the last pick in the draft isn't hard enough, rookie wide receiver Kevin McMahan received a concussion and stitches in his tongue after taking a brutal three-way hit in the pre-season opener.

McMahan bit his tongue when he was hit, and the aftermath after he regained his senses is something he'll never forget — as he'd like to.

"They didn't shoot me with anything," McMahan said. "They put a cotton swab with some Novocain on my tongue, and I felt every stitch. I felt the needle every time it touched me. I just kept thinking, `Hang in there, hang in there.'"

—Wide receiver Jerry Porter, silent since making public his request for a trade on the first day of training camp, has begun to come alive in practice.

Porter has missed several practice sessions with a calf strain, but had back-to-back days where he made a handful of catches in team sessions — including one 40-yard touchdown strike from Marques Tuiasosopo.

—The Raiders have 11 players in camp who spent time on the 2005 roster who were undrafted free agents — the most recent being return specialist and defensive back Chris Carr.

The top 2006 candidate appears to be wide receiver Will Buchanon, who was lost in a sea of talent at USC but has lit up the Raiders training camp. He caught four passes for 50 yards in the pre-season opener against Philadelphia.

Buchanon had four career catches for 15 yards at Southern Cal, shuttling between wide receiver and cornerback.

"At USC I had my doubts (about the NFL) because I wasn't playing as much as I wanted," Buchanon said. "It's hard to keep your confidence up. But I always knew I could perform. I'm thankful for the chance to show the world what Will Buchanon can do."

Buchanon is the son of Willie Buchanon, a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback with Green Bay and San Diego.

—Teammates have taken to yelling "Gastineau" when Derrick Burgess gets a strong pass rush. Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets was the NFL record-holder for sacks for 17 years with 22 in 1984 before his record was broken by Michael Strahan of the Giants in 2001.

Burgess led the NFL with 16 last season - a team record. It was the first time a Raider led the league in sacks. But Burgess, signed as a free agent from Philadelphia, said he isn't entering 2006 with Gastineau on his mind.

"I'm not setting any standard as far as sacks," Burgess said. "I'm just going to come out here and work hard and try to work a little harder than I did last year. Hopefully it turns out better."

—In the aftermath of the Raiders preseason win over Philadelphia, Randy Moss broke his silence with the local media that dated back nearly 11 months, when he spoke following Oakland's season-opening loss in New England.

He addressed the Raiders coming game in Minnesota, and talked about meeting the Hall of Fame class which included John Madden.

He admitted to freezing when it came time to speak with Sara White, the widow of defensive end Reggie White.

"I didn't know what to say," Moss said. "I didn't want to say the wrong thing. I didn't want to say nothing that she thought might have been bad, or got my tongue stuck. I wanted to hug her, wave at her, I didn't know what to do, so I just left her alone."

—Cornerback Fabian Washington had an interception in the Raiders' preseason opener after having no picks in 11 starts as a rookie. The interception and 40-yard return set up the Raiders' lone touchdown in a 16-10 win.

Washington has been a standout since camp opened, making big plays on almost a daily basis.

"Last year I never felt like I got my legs under me," Washington said. "It was an uphill battle, and you've pretty much got to get up that hill."

Coach Art Shell said he believes Washington can be one of the NFL's elite corners, and that his first interception in a game was a start.

"He knows now that he can do that," Shell said. "He can go pick off a pass and return it for big yardage. I think he said last year he probably wouldn't have taken the chance to try and get to a ball. This year he's willing to do that, understanding that if you take the proper angles you can get interceptions."

cont'd...
 
cont'd...

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Too much of this era, of this age, has turned into where there are little technocrats that are out there, coaching people like they're watching some video football," - Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, who promises to put the game in the hands of his players.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

—Considering the lack of depth at running back, the Raiders must balance their concerns for keeping lead back LaMont Jordan healthy with getting him enough work with the first unit to develop continuity with a running game they consider to be the key to their resurgence.

Jordan carried nine times for 27 yards with a long of 14 yards, but had a rough start.

After Jordan, the Raiders are using Justin Fargas (six carries, 15 yards), Rod Smart (seven carries, 17 yards) and DeJuan Green (nine carries, 11 yards).

Smart, predominantly a special teams player, has been playing a role as a third-down back.

—DT Tommy Kelly was part of a first defensive unit that got pushed around by Philadelphia on the first possession. Kelly, together with Terdell Sands, represents Oakland's best chance in duplicating the play of the departed Ted Washington.

—WR Carlos Francis remains out with a left hamstring pull sustained July 26. An organizational favorite because of his sprinter's speed, Francis made the team last year under a similar circumstance. He is unlikely to make as an injured player this year.

—SS Alvin Nnabuife, an undrafted free agent from SMU, remains a long shot to make the roster has flashed often with his ability to be around the ball and make plays.

—LB Timi Wusu had four tackles on defense and two on special teams against Minnesota. An undrafted free agent from Stanford, Wusu's athletic skills are intriguing. He was a Pac-10 decathlete until his sophomore year at Stanford.

—LB Sam Williams, who lost his rookie season to knee surgery, missed the last seven games with a torn labrum in 2004, and lost all last season to a torn ACL, has held up physically and remains in the starting lineup.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Andrew Walter vs. Marques Tuiasosopo at backup quarterback. The Raiders want Walter to win this job. Shell made it clear Walter is getting the work with the second team because he is a third-round pick who the organization believes has a lot of promise. But Walter has not been impressive, mixing poor wobbly throws with nice touch passes deep. Tuiasosopo has done his best work while on the run, and occasionally hit the sensational pass - but has also been error prone. If Walter continues to falter, Tuiasosopo's mobility could make the difference.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS:
Sam Williams vs. Grant Irons at OLB. The Raiders have given the job to Williams and he has done nothing to relinquish it, but Irons may have them thinking.

—Adam Treu vs. Chris Morris at backup center. Treu is the longest-standing Raider in terms of service and a respected veteran. Morris, who can long snap as Treu does, is in some ways a young Treu - a smart player with good character who does not have stunning physical gifts.

—Doug Gabriel vs. Jerry Porter for starting wide receiver. Porter has begun to make his move, and while Gabriel has gotten most of the work, Porter is the best the Raiders have as a slot receiver working the middle - that is, unless Ronald Curry recovers from Achilles' tendon surgery for the second straight year.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: LB Grant Irons. Had a big tackle for loss against Philadelphia and has excelled during the week of practice. Irons is playing well enough that if LB Sam Williams suffers an injury for the fourth straight year, he could step in and start. Otherwise, the Raiders would have to consider moving Kirk Morrison back outside and Danny Clark to the starting role he held the last two years.

ROOKIE REPORT: S Michael Huff has been getting almost all the reps with the first team at strong safety, with the Raiders dropping the pretense of Derrick Gibson being the starter.

—LB Thomas Howard was taken to school on a 14-yard completion to Brian Westbrook on the Eagles' first drive, but impressed Shell with his work taking on blockers against the run.

—Third-round pick Paul McQuistan has gotten all the work with the first team, and Shell indicated it will continue that way. He has backed up by another rookie, Kevin Boothe.

—Darnell Bing, the fourth-round pick out of USC, sees some action with the second team in specialty packages but is likely a year away from contributing full time.

—C Chris Morris played three quarters against Philadelphia while backup Adam Treu nursed a sore back,

—WR Kevin McMahan would seem to be looking at practice squad at best, particularly with the performance of undrafted rookie free agent Will Buchanon.
 
"There were some games where he'd stand up and say, `Hey, I called a bad game,'" free safety Stuart Schweigert said. "That's really nice to see as a player to show some accountability and responsibility, that he's not putting it off on the players. He's not going to throw any of us under the bus. It's nice to have a defensive coordinator in your corner."

This left me concerned. Where football is a sixteen game schedule, some is high percentage. Hopefully that is a misquote.
 
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