Raiders hungry for some respect

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Raiders hungry for some respect
Dismissed team looks to get sneer back under new coach Shell
By Bill Soliday, STAFF WRITER


NAPA — The Oakland Raiders have an instant advantage going into this season. Hardly anybody expects much from them.
That contrasts to last year when nobody was sure what might happen if Kerry Collins was tossed in with Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan. At least potentially the team looked scary.

It turned scary all right — a 4-12 finish after a 4-6 start, Moss injured, Collins booed out of town and Jordan making do with subpar blocking.

Jump to today as the team reports to Napa for a month-long training camp. There's a new coach, a new quarterback and assorted other trinkets but no wholesale change.

So after three years of futility (a league worst 13-35 record) if there is fear involving the Raiders it is that they might wind up in intensive care.

Al Davis saw the withering state of respect for his Raiders and was disturbed. When the owner tabbed Art Shell to return as coach he promised, if nothing else, a return to Raider football.

"It may take us a short while, but we'll get that nastiness of the Raiders back," Davis vowed.

Snickers followed in Denver, Kansas City and San Diego where the Raiders are 2-16 against AFC West foes since 2003. Given that, how could they possibly take the Raiders seriously?

It should be a Raider advantage.

What would pass as achievable improvement? There are even optimistic fans who say 8-8. To Shell, that is minimalistfrom Sports 1


thinking.

"We have some good football players on our team, we really do," Shell said. "But we have to have more than just talent. We have to develop it, get them to the point where they know how to win and understand what it takes."

Five things that will go a long way toward getting the Raiders out of the No Fun House.


1. Buckle down, start fast, stay hungry.

Training camp will be tough. Shell promises trial by fire to root out those who lack the will: there will be two-a-days in pads for the first week.

He knows success is there for the taking early in the year. The first six games (San Diego, at Baltimore, Cleveland, at San Francisco, at Denver, Arizona) create a scenario where they could be a confident 4-2 entering the critical five-game juncture of the season (Pittsburgh, at Seattle, Denver, at Kansas City, at San Diego).

Then there is the matter of finishing strong, something the Raiders haven't done the last three years. They have finished 1-5, 1-4 and 0-6, a cumulative 2-15. That says something about the culture — something that must change.


2. Fix the offensive line.

After the line had a poor year, Shell said "that is the group we've got to get going this year."

He shuffled the deck: Robert Gallery going from right to left tackle, Barry Sims going one spot over to left guard, Langston Walker shifting from left guard to right tackle and rookie Paul McQuistan starting at right guard. Center Jake Grove is the only player still at his old position.

Gallery is the key.

"I told him 'You're too good a football player not to be mentioned to the Pro Bowl,'" Shell said. "He's accepted that challenge. His potential is way out there. He can be as good as he wants to be."


3. Start forcing turnovers.

Although there was scant statistical evidence, Oakland was better on defense last year. There was one flaw: just five interceptions. At least 10 possible picks were dropped.

Even with cornerback Charles Woodson gone, four former first-round picks remain in the secondary, including top draft pick Michael Huff. Picks come from pressure, and returning NFL sack leader Derrick Burgess is joined by Lance Johnstone and a smallish but quick tackle tandem in Tommy Kelly and Warren Sapp. It should happen.


4. Keep the three irreplaceable players healthy.

Injuries are always a key, but three players the Raiders simply cannot afford to lose are Moss, Jordan and Sapp. All missed time in 2005.

Last year Moss played hurt for three-quarters of the season and was a shadow of what he had been. If Jordan goes down again, who fills the gap? Sapp missed the final six games with a torn rotator cuff. The team lost all six.


5. The quarterback.

There is pressure on Aaron Brooks, but the goal is just the opposite.

Benched in New Orleans for erratic play, he's getting a fresh start in a new system. The key is not to place the entire burden on him. If the Raiders run effectively as planned, Brooks needn't pass often. And when teams learn to respect the run, Moss and Jerry Porter should be open deep.

Some of the best Raider football in Shell's playing days came with the quarterback throwing 15-18 passes a game. If Brooks has to throw 30-35 times a game, watch out.

http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_4087922?source=rss
 
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