Raiders Offense...


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Jan 22, 2006
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Raiders offense to be put on the spot tonight
Defense seems OK as Oakland meets Eagles in Hall of Fame game
By Bill Soliday, STAFF WRITER

CANTON, Ohio — The wait is about to end. Raider Nation is about to find out what Raiders 2006, Art Shell's version, might look like.
It's best to use the word "might," because after all it is just an exhibition game, and the opener is still five weeks away. Still, there is no denying curiosity.

The debut takes place tonight at Fawcett Stadium, a high school field next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's the first exhibition game for Shell, and he's as curious as anyone else.

However, his curiosity is a bit different than that of the general public.

"It's a good opportunity to see where you're at," Shell said. "To see if we're where we need to be at this point in time in training camp."

"This point in training camp" says it all because his Raiders aren't very far into it — just two weeks. First exhibition games aren't usually pretty to look at.

Furthermore, the truth is the Raiders offense has not had a healthy look so far during the team's workouts that started July 24. An impressive defense has dominated.

It has raised a question, one that will at least be partially answered tonight: Is the defense that good, or is the offense lagging that far behind?

An adequate offensive performance against the Eagles would hint that an apparently improved defense is no mirage.

Of course, with upward of 80 players still on the roster, there will be a lot of unknowns on the field as the game progresses.

"I'm focusing on every single guy out there," Shell said.

Some things to look for:

-The debut of mobile quarterback Aaron Brooks. He's the starter, but Shell has cringed when he has been asked if his status was permanent. Nothing is set in stone, not anywhere, he will say. The truth: If Brooks is not the starter for the regular-season opener, he will have had to play his way out of it. Probably significantly.

"It's basically a test for us, particularly me, to get back into the flow of things," Brooks said. "It's a new system with everybody learning new things. We're here to get better and learn from our mistakes."

-The direction of the running game. Shell wants to see some straight-ahead power running from LaMont Jordan, who says he is far more familiar with blocking schemes than he was a year ago. But Shell is also eager to see if backup Justin Fargas, who Shell says has had a strong camp, can recapture some of his rookie magic.

"Every play is going to be physical, every play is going to be fast, and every play is going to be finished to the whistle," Jordan said.

-Blocking. Whether the backs succeed depends on the performance of the line, which is operating under orders to take on tacklers directly and move people out. It's not that the Raiders won't test the flanks, they just want those dive plays to pick up 4-to-6 yards, not 1-to-2. That means winning head-to-head matchups.

"I want to see people move them (the Eagles) off the ball," Shell said.

-Defensive speed. This has been the eye-opening facet of the Raiders game this summer. A new linebacker alignment with Kirk Morrison in the middle is part of it, but rookie No.2 draft pick Thomas Howard, the weakside backer, has shown freakish abilities. Now he gets his chance to show his stuff for real.

-Where does No.1 pick, safety Michael Huff, fit in? He has been used everywhere in camp and is not officially starting. He has worked at both safety positions, most recently free safety with Stuart Schweigert hobbling with a groin injury, but most expected him to co-opt the strong safety spot. He has also played some cornerback.

-Penalties. The Raiders don't want to lead the league again. The focus has been on eradicating false starts and offsides on defense. Aggressive penalties are tolerated, but not stupid ones. There were no offsides penalties in Wednesday's practice.

"That means the concentration level has picked up," Shell said.

-Special teams. This is where the competition has been stiffest because it is where jobs are most available. Watch Rod Smart and Jarrod Cooper, former running buddies from their Carolina days, working in tandem on coverage units. New special-teams coach Ted Daisher has his charges excited, and because of the new dose of speed on the team,'teams should be visibly upgraded.

"We had guys last season who didn't want to be out there," Schweigert said. "The whole attitude of the team has changed. Guys want to be out there."

Get behind the scenes: Visit as Bill Soliday and Jerry McDonald file a weblog from the Raiders training camp in Napa.
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