Shell's Approach To Reviving Raiders...

Angry Pope

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Feb 2, 2006
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Lay it on the line...

Shell's approach to reviving Raiders: Lay it on the line

June 25, 2006

Jerry McDonald

Art Shell has kept a low profile since resuming his duties as head coach of the Oakland Raiders after a 12-year absence, a personal choice that might have as much to do with the position he played as the organization which signs his paychecks.

One of the great tackles in NFL history, Shell is used to performing in a world in which the greatest accolade is silence, a philosophy that dovetails nicely with the Raiders' longstanding tradition of keeping the outside world at arm's length.

Art Shell is keeping a close eye on the Raiders' offensive line. (Getty Images)
With the franchise at its lowest point since Al Davis gained control in 1965, Shell was brought back to restore "the Raider way" to a team with a 13-35 record since losing Super Bowl XXXVII.

Brushfires are everywhere, but none burns hotter than along the offensive line, which has been much less than the sum of its parts in terms of performance. Two seasons ago, the Raiders finished dead last in rushing with 327 carries for 1,295 yards.

Last season, despite the addition of running back LaMont Jordan, they only moved up to 29th, with 361 carries for 1,369 yards.

And while Oakland protected the passer relatively well in 2004, given its inability to run, its quarterbacks were sacked 45 times in 2005.

It's early, but it appears Shell has taken hold of the on-field product in a way not seen since Jon Gruden arrived and temporarily restored the Raiders to their winning ways.

In the mandatory minicamp following the NFL Draft, Shell was conspicuous with his involvement up front. Rather than greeting mental errors with rants and raves, Shell made quiet corrections and insisted plays be run over and over until they were executed properly.

"We're going to run the ball," said tackle Robert Gallery, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft. "We didn't run the ball last year or the last couple of years. At least it didn't feel like it. That helps a lot, when you wear people down and they're not pinning their ears back and bringing it every play because they know you're not going to run."

Shell raised some eyebrows with his choice of Tom Walsh, a Raiders assistant who has been out of coaching since 1999, as his offensive coordinator. Walsh's most recent job was running a bed and breakfast with his wife and serving as the mayor of Swan Valley, Idaho.

Less publicized, but telling, were Shell's selections of Irv Eatman and Jackie Slater as co-coaches for the offensive line. Eatman was a line assistant to Mike Solari in Kansas City, Slater a Hall of Fame tackle who had never coached in the NFL.

Eatman and Slater will take their cue from Shell, who took little time in making some decisive, common-sense moves to get things going up front.

First, Gallery was installed at left tackle, charged by Shell to not only protect the blind side of quarterback Aaron Brooks but to make the Pro Bowl in the process.

Shell set the standard for Gallery in their first meeting.

"I told him he's too good a football player not to be mentioned for the Pro Bowl, and that we've got to get him there," Shell said. "He's accepted that challenge. And I'll tell you, his potential is way out there. He can be as good as he wants to be. I think he wants to be good. I really do."

Barry Sims, the former left tackle, was moved to left guard, where his troubles with outside speed rushers will be no more than a painful memory.

Jake Grove, a center out of Virginia Tech taken after Gallery in 2004, will be the center after spending his first two years battling injury and shuttling between center and guard.

Langston Walker, moved to left guard last season before suffering an intra-abdominal hemorrhage, was moved back to right tackle.

While right guard appears wide open, the Raiders quietly moved third-round draft pick Paul McQuistan to that spot in their most recent voluntary minicamp and had him running with the first team.

While McQuistan will have to hold up through training camp and hold off veteran Brad Badger, there are those in the Raiders organization who consider him a blend of Steve Wisniewski and Kevin Gogan, two guards who were nasty from snap to whistle -- and occasionally beyond.

The key is the development of Gallery, who showed promise as a rookie but struggled last season. Gallery will need to take a quantum leap if he is to fulfill his draft promise of being a tackle who will be in the Tony Boselli-Jonathan Ogden-Orlando Pace class.

Early indications are Oakland will use a lot less motion and shifting and a lot more straight-ahead aggression, setting up the opposition for deep balls to the likes of Randy Moss and Jerry Porter.

Grove, who was slowed by knee surgery last year, thinks being more insistent will be a good thing.

"We're not going to trick a lot of people," Grove said. "We're going to come right at them and be better than they are, and that rests with the people up front."

It's often the case that current players have little or no sense of history, but in Shell's case, his linemen are paying close attention.

"To have a head coach that is coaching your position that played and understands the issues you might have, and you can access that, that's a nice thing to have," backup center Adam Treu said.

Sims, after holding off previous first-round draft picks Mo Collins and Matt Stinchcomb at left tackle, was initially reluctant to move. Shell's presence and status helped change his mind.

There is some concern that Shell plus two assistant line coaches could make for mixed messages. Sims sees it as a virtual library on how to play the position.

"The way I look at it, we've got three O-line coaches with 50 years experience and two Hall of Fame busts, so there's really not a whole lot of back-talk and excuses that will work," Sims said. "Those guys have seen everything and done everything."

In the Gruden and Norv Turner offenses, timing was of the essence. Shell wants the Raiders to let the quarterbacks and receivers worry about the fractions of seconds and have the offensive line concentrate on delivering blows.

"We don't talk about timing here. We don't talk about so many seconds to get the ball out," Shell said. "We want to block. We're going to work to block until the quarterback gets rid of the ball, until the whistle blows. It's not 1.5 seconds or 2.2 seconds or whatever it is. You block, block, block."

To Gallery, the thought of building collective strength in executing basic power plays is exciting.

"I think we're going to have our bread-and-butter plays, which I don't think we've had in the past," Gallery said. "We were so random as far as what we did. We really didn't have a go-to play. It's going to be hard-nosed and straight-up, and that will open up the passing game as well. I think everyone's excited about it. I know I am, that's for damn sure."

It sounds promising in mid-June.

As Shell knows all too well, success will only be achieved when the offensive line ceases to be a topic of conversation.
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