Inside Slant 09.07.2006...

Angry Pope

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Inside Slant

Posted 9/7/2006 3:16 AM ET

Aaron Brooks is either cool under pressure or aloof and disinterested.
He is strong-armed and mobile or error-prone and susceptible to sacks.

He is "Kerry Collins with legs" or just the man to lead the Oakland Raiders out of a 13-35 wilderness and back into relevance in the AFC West.

The truth is, the Raiders have no idea what they have at this point and won't until the season starts playing itself out Monday night against the San Diego Chargers.

The Raiders raised more than a few eyebrows with their decision to make Brooks their quarterback. Fair or not, he earned the reputation as a quarterback that will make the killer mistake instead of as a man who compiled a pretty respectable 43-43 overall record through the 2004 season with one of the NFL's worst franchises.

The Raiders, in the off-season, parted ways with Kerry Collins after what amounted to a charade in terms of renegotiating a contract. Collins — perhaps unfairly considering his 20-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio — was targeted as the reason the Raiders were 4-12, along with coach Norv Turner.

Both the quarterback and coach had to go to appease a dwindling ticket base. Coach Art Shell's return has been met with mostly approval from Raider Nation. Brooks has been mostly a wait-and-see proposition.

The Raiders' stayed on the sidelines when it came to available quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Daunte Culpepper and Steve McNair.

There is a faction of the fan base that is convinced second-year quarterback Andrew Walter is the answer.

Instead, the Raiders pounced on Brooks when the Saints cut him loose. The Walter camp has been quieted somewhat by their man's shaky play plus a troublesome throwing shoulder.

Brooks said he has grown out of attempting to argue with the critics regarding his stay in New Orleans or his potential in Oakland.

"I correct people and all of a sudden they're coming back and they've got some more fuel to throw on the fire," Brooks said. "So I'm not going to get into proving points to people or having confrontations through the media. I don't need that in my life right now. This team doesn't need it either. New place, new start, new foundation, new beginning. Everything is great for me. I don't want to do anything to bring all that craziness here."

In the pre-season, Brooks recovered from a terrible start in his first two games to look extremely sharp in the next two. He made a brief, ineffective appearance in the Oakland's 30-7 loss to close out the pre-season against Seattle.

Under new offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, the Raiders have gone back to a power-running, vertical-passing system similar to the one they ran during Shell's last tenure in Oakland from 1989-94.

It puts pressure on the quarterback to hold the ball for longer periods of time than normal and stress on the offensive line to keep defenders away. If the Raiders, 32nd and 29th the last two seasons in rushing, continue on that road, it will be a long year for whoever quarterbacks the Raiders.

Shell promises the Raiders will run effectively. Which means Brooks must be the man to keep wide receiver Randy Moss happy. Whispers of a chemistry problem between the two were temporarily quieted when they connected for touchdown passes of 67 and 25 yards in a 21-3 win over the Detroit Lions.

On the first play, Moss blew past single coverage and was in the clear. On the second, Brooks threaded the ball between three defenders who had their backs turned.

While Brooks has said all the right things regarding Moss and his ability, he refuses to get into discussions about force-feeding the ball to the Raiders top talent.

"I'm not concerned about that," Brooks said. "I have to do my job, and I have to throw the ball in the right places at the right times. I can't be concerned about the Randy Ratio. I think Randy understands that. I think Randy understands that his touches are going to come. It's not about satisfying what people want to see. It's not about satisfying egos. It's about team concept and being productive as a unit and really just trying to get victories."

SERIES HISTORY: 93rd meeting. Raiders lead series 54-36-2, but Chargers have won last five games by an average margin of 17 points per game.

NOTES, QUOTES

—Raiders coach Art Shell has seen Marty Schottenheimer's dominance of the Raiders from both sides.

From 1990 through 1994, Schottenheimer's Kansas City Chiefs were 10-1 against the Raiders, including a playoff win in 1991. When Shell was fired by Al Davis in favor of Mike White, he joined Schottenheimer's staff in Kansas City as offensive line coach. The Chiefs won three out of four.

In San Diego, Schottenheimer's teams have beaten the Raiders the last five times, running his career record against the Raiders to 25-7.

Shell believes the best way to conquer a bully is to fight back.

"The constant is he's going to try and run the ball down your throat," Shell said. "He wants to get after you physically. That's our personality, too."

—Schottenheimer believes the Raiders will have a different look with Shell returning to the helm.

"There will be considerably more discipline in how they go about their tasks," Schottenheimer said. "The thing I admire about Art is, while it may appear on the surface there's not a flame burning down there, deep down we know there's a volcano he just keeps a lid on most of the time."

—In 10 games against the Raiders, LaDainian Tomlinson has averaged 27 carries and 122 yards, with a high of 243 yards on Dec. 28, 2003.

Former quarterback Drew Brees also had some of his biggest games against the Raiders, including one when he completed 22 of 25 passes and threw for five touchdowns.

So defensive tackle Warren Sapp's strategy is to put the pressure on Phillip Rivers, the third-year quarterback who replaced Brees.

"If they have it in their minds this is going to be a tough night to run the ball, then they're going to look to their young quarterback and say, 'The game is on you son. You've got to win it,'" Sapp said. "And who knows what that will take."

—Running back LaMont Jordan wants to be recognized as a player in the run-heavy AFC West. He cited LaDainian Tomlinson, Denver's army of quality backs and Larry Johnson in Kansas City as those who are stealing his thunder.

"In the AFC West you have to be able to run the ball," Jordan said. "You have L.J. out there in Kansas City. The first time I heard L.J. I thought somebody was referring to me. Then I realized who the real L.J. is. I've got to compete with that."

Jordan's nickname? "Boogie."

—The Raiders open the 2006 season without a Heisman Trophy winner on the roster for the first time since 1978.

Heisman winners were Jim Plunkett (1978-86), Marcus Allen (1982-92), Tim Brown (1988-03) and Charles Woodson (1998-05).

cont'd...
 
cont'd...

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 — The amount of years that have passed since Art Shell was last on the sidelines as a head coach.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to be a good test of which way our season is going to head. This is a huge game for us," — Raiders free safety Stuart Schweigert.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

It's been a straightforward camp for the Raiders in that there were no alterations to the depth chart from July 25 until late in the pre-season when starting center Jake Grove went down with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Corey Hulsey.

Hulsey's ascension was a surprise, given that he is a guard by trade, had never played center in an NFL game, and that perennial backup and long-snapper Adam Treu has 44 starts.

However, Hulsey is considered a more powerful run-blocker, and the Raiders have made it clear they will be persistent in that area with running back LaMont Jordan and backup Justin Fargas.

The second change came when wide receiver Doug Gabriel was traded to the New England Patriots the day of the final roster cut down. Gabriel moved into the starting lineup when Jerry Porter criticized the coaching staff, demanded a trade and then suffered a calf injury that cost him a week of training camp.

Shell's surprising choice to replace Gabriel is Alvis Whitted, a 32-year-old veteran who has 11 starts in eight seasons. Whitted missed the last two pre-season games with a groin injury.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

—WR Alvis Whitted, who had a career-high 14 receptions for 183 yards last season, will start opposite Ronald Curry against San Diego, according to coach Art Shell.

—DE Lance Johnstone, recovering from a shin injury, expects to play against San Diego.

—SS Michael Huff, listed as the second-team strong safety behind Derrick Gibson the last two weeks, is back up to first team after recovering from an ankle sprain.

—LG Barry Sims makes his first regular-season start since starting four times at right guard in 1999. He has 92 starts at left tackle.

—CB Duane Starks, who was released during the Raiders' final round of cuts, has been re-signed to the roster. Safety Eugene Hiram, who originally made the 53-man roster as something of a surprise, was waived.

GAME PLAN: If the Raiders hope to upset San Diego, the key lies in slowing Tomlinson, whose success against Oakland (1,215 yards on 10 games) is well-documented.

If they can accomplish that, their best chance lies with a conservative, low-scoring game in which they run the ball, strike with a big play or two — preferably to Randy Moss — and win it with their kicking game.

Oakland's special teams have been a bright spot in camp since Day 1. Sebastian Janikowski did not miss a kick in pre-season and Shane Lechler had been kicking high, far and inside the 20 with repeated success.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Raiders LT Robert Gallery vs. Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman: Gallery has struggled in the pre-season in his return to his college position. Even journeyman defensive linemen have gotten past him for sacks. Shell says he is not worried. Although the Chargers will flop Merriman, Gallery will be saddled with what could be the NFL's most explosive defensive player in Week 1. Gallery will get plenty of help in the form of tight ends and fullbacks.

—Raiders SS Michael Huff vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates: Like Gallery, Oakland's No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft gets his extreme test in Week 1. Dealing the likes of Gates and Tony Gonzalez is one of the reasons the Raiders targeted Huff, a gifted defender who is a bit on the light side for a strong safety but was a proven play-maker in college. The Chargers like to move Gates like a chess piece to create mismatches. Conversely, the Raiders plan on moving Huff to different spots depending on down and distance. Chances are good they'll see a lot of each other.

INJURY IMPACT: The Raiders have only one significant injury in center Jake Grove. Grove has come farther than expected with a shoulder injury neither the player nor the club has been specific about, but is unlikely to face San Diego.

That leaves the center position to Corey Hulsey, a guard who was made the starting center when Grove got hurt. Hulsey will be responsible for line calls against a San Diego 3-4 defense which will come at the Raiders from more different, confusing angles than a 4-3.

On offense, the Raiders may look to the side of outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who is replacing Steve Foley.
 
"It's going to be a good test of which way our season is going to head. This is a huge game for us," — Raiders free safety Stuart Schweigert.

No shit Sherlock..how profound. Well yeah the guy went to Purdue so I guess he's smart.

Getting off to another 0-1 start, at home on MNF wouldn't be a good thing for this team. I hope we can come together quickly Monday Night.
 
Signing George a curious move

The Oakland Raiders signed Jeff George.

No sports fan can deny the inherent comedy in that statement. You have known it for a week now and you still laughed. Now consider the next logical question: What if the Raiders were serious?

I realize that Jeff George is such a head case that he should be a wide receiver, just as I realize that he has been hired to share a huddle with the similarly, er, dynamic Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. I get that Al Davis had to chip him out of a glacier and revive him in a lightning storm and I do remember that no fewer than three NFL teams cut George for arguing with coaches during games. I cannot argue that despite their reputation, the Raiders have not successfully saved a guy from the scrap heap since Jim Plunkett.

But I think this was an OK move.

Nobody denies that Jeff George has ability. There was hardly any dropoff when he replaced Red Grange at the University of Illinois. But for every pundit who will admit that George has a cannon, none will mention his production.

Jeff George's NFL numbers are solid. They are, for instance, generally better than Oakland's starter, the redoubtable Aaron Brooks. Moreover, if you squint and shake your head side-to-side, his career numbers are better than John Elway's.

In every apples-to-apples statistical category, that is anything that remains constant irrespective of career longevity, George has a slight advantage. Better touchdown-to-interception ratio, better passer rating, better yards per attempt, better completion percentage.

Both Brooks and Elway are admittedly far superior athletes to George, but it comes at a price. In this single aspect, George is much, much better than either Brooks or Elway: He does not fumble. Elway coughed up the ball every 53 pass attempts, Brooks every 48 and George only once in every 83 attempts.

The Raiders did not disclose financial terms of their deal with George, but we can safely assume that he is playing for the veteran minimum and little or no guaranteed money. Given George's well-chronicled efforts to reinsert himself into the league, the NFLPA is probably the only thing saving Jeff George from toting a clipboard in exchange for Al Davis' pocket lint.

And while a lot of people might take cheap shots at George's age, like I did a minute ago, the guy just isn't that old. He is 38. And no, he has not thrown an NFL pass in five years, but while this makes him rusty on one hand, it makes him a young 38 on the other. Over the past four seasons, he has been sacked 208 fewer times than David Carr.

So the Raiders signed an experienced, cheap, productive, strong-armed quarterback who takes pretty good care of the ball and will never be nearly the problem that either of his two best receivers are bound to be. We should all be so lucky.
 
Richardson is boss with the Boss

Yankees boss George Steinbrenner gives the five owners in other sports he admires most, in no particular order:

JERRY JONES, DALLAS COWBOYS. He's smart, runs a great organization and acts instead of reacts.

AL DAVIS, OAKLAND RAIDERS. He's an innovator and visionary. He understands the game from an athlete's perspective and the business from a businessman's perspective. A winning combination.

JERRY RICHARDSON, CAROLINA PANTHERS. He's relentless, dauntless and a warrior in every sense. He battled for six long years to have NFL owners approve the Panthers as an NFL franchise.

CHARLES DOLAN, NEW YORK KNICKS AND RANGERS. Brilliant. His accomplishments could fill volumes. Most notably and most enviably, he has been able to live his life under the public's radar.

POSTHUMOUSLY, JOHN MARA AND BOB TISCH, NEW YORK GIANTS. They were "giants" in or out of the football stadium. Whether it was the Depression, World War II, a winning team, a losing team or a team in transition, they saw themselves, the team and the fans through it all. They were smart businessmen, sportsmen and most of all gentlemen. -- Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 
A's success could be a Raider headache

David White

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Break up the A's, before they break up the Raiders' schedule.

A World Series run by the A's would throw a major wrench into the Raiders' October home slate, all because the American League beat the National League in this season's All-Star home game. The winner gets home-field advantage in the best-of-seven World Series.

That means, if the A's make it to their first World Series since 1990, they would host Game 2 on Oct. 22, and a potential Game 7 on Oct. 29.

For those who don't have a Raiders schedule handy, they host the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers, in order, those two Sundays. Something would have to give, and it won't likely be Major League Baseball's media event of the year.

Before moving on, allow Raiders chief executive Amy Trask to make one point clear: "We wish them well and we're rooting for the A's."

For this scheduling nightmare to unfold, the A's must win the AL West Division -- they had a 51/2-game lead over the Angels before Saturday's games. Then, they have to win two playoff series to capture the pennant.

Some time during their potential postseason run, contingency plans must be put in place. That's where the Raiders come in.

"We will work with the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the Oakland A's and the stadium authority to fashion a solution that works best for both teams and their respective fans," Trask said. "That's what you do when two teams share a facility. Bottom line is, we're all going to sit down."

It's likely the Raiders would have to move their games back one day because Arizona and Pittsburgh are non-division opponents. If they were playing an AFC West team, they could have swapped the home-and-away series.

World Series or not, the A's are rolling toward the postseason, so the Raiders will have to put up with the infield dirt in the middle of the football field a little longer.

"I've already been through two pair of pants, and it's only been preseason," safety Jarrod Cooper said. "Go out there, it rips your clothes off. It stinks. I always want the A's to do good, but that infield will tear you up."

Tomlinson rested: Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson didn't play in a single exhibition game, and not so he could save it for the Raiders.

Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer didn't want to risk injury with his star player. Whichever Raider hits Tomlinson first will be the first non-Charger to put a hand on Tomlinson since last season's New Year's Eve finale against Denver.

"He's the guy who carries the mail for us during the season," Schottenheimer said. "Because of the way he works, there's no concern on anybody's part. ... If you watch him in practice, he's the highest tempo of anyone who's around him."

Briefly: The Raiders are 5-0 against San Diego in season openers ... Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss is one touchdown away from 100 in his career.
 
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