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Angry Pope

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Ten Raiders who need to make big impact this season

Jerry McDonald



TOWARD THE end of his 9-23 reign as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Norv Turner could be heard lamenting his rotten luck of having only one of 53 men having a truly exceptional season.

That would be defensive end Derrick Burgess, a free agent who established himself as one of the league's top pass rushers with an NFL-leading 16 sacks despite coming in with only 8.5 in his previous 29 games.

As for everyone else, there were a few encouraging performances, but nothing that merited the Pro Bowl.

Say what you will about Turner being at least partially responsible for it, but he was right. A successful season is built with a roster of players having good years at the same time.

Excluding rookies and Ronald Curry, who is coming back from two Achilles' tendon tears in two years and from whom anything would be considered a bonus, here are 10 players who need to report to Napa a week from today with the intention of being near the top of their game if the Raiders are to ascend to .500 or beyond under Art Shell:

Randy Moss: The straw that stirs the smoothie. He's begun a second career as a frozen fruit drink entrepreneur, but his primary objective is to return to his 80-catch, 1,400-yard and 15-touchdown glory.

Moss silently played through rib, groin and pelvis injuries when he probably should have taken a month off. Based on the four healthy games he played (24.5 yards per catch) it's not unreasonable to expect a return to form.

He's saying the right things in this off-season radio interviews, granted in part to pump up his smoothie business. But if he gets hurt for the third straight year and the Raiders lay another egg, expect Moss to be looking for a way out of town and the team to accommodate him.

Aaron Brooks: He won half of his 86 starts in New Orleans as a starter before last year's 3-10 disaster, which is no small feat. Although he has some of the same traits as the departed Kerry Collins (strong arm, questionable decision-making skills, killer turnovers), Brooks also has very good mobility and an explosive supporting cast.

He needs to play well enough to make quarterback a non-issue in terms of the starter. If Andrew Walter enters the mix, the season has gone south.

Robert Gallery: After a promising rookie season, Gallery got caught up in whatever it was that caused the line as a whole to struggle in 2005. He was moved to left tackle by Shell, who expects him fulfill his status as the No.2 overall pick in the draft and become a dominant player.

If Gallery were to indeed join the Jonathan Ogden-Willie Roaf-Walter Jones club, the ripple effect across the line would be substantial and go a long way toward establishing the physical presence up front Shell is counting on.

Sebastian Janikowski: If Janikowski does not ascend to the status Shane Lechler enjoys among the NFL's punters, he could be on his way out after this season. Never mind the mystery surrounding his inability to consistently produce touchbacks — what the Raiders need is someone who converts everything inside of 45 yards plus the occasional clutch kick from 50 and beyond.

If Janikowski had done that last year, the Raiders might have won seven games, and Turner might still have a job.

Warren Sapp: Sapp will never be the player he was in Tampa, but the Raiders will settle for what they had in the first 10 games of 2005. Lost as a 3-4 end in 2004, Sapp was rejuvenated in the 4-3 until suffering a torn rotator cuff. Without him, the Raiders were 0-6.

LaMont Jordan: Had a decent year in his first as a feature runner, gaining 1,025 yards in 14 games.

Jordan needs to take the next step as a runner and has a lot of improving to do as a receiver, where he dropped an alarming number of passes. If the Raiders don't add another running back during training camp or coax a 500-yard season out of Justin Fargas, Jordan will need at least 1,300 yards rushing if the Raiders hope to run with the bulls of the AFC West.

Burgess: While run defense will be a challenge, it largely will be a group effort to stop the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Denver's runners of choice.

Rushing the passer is another matter. Burgess will be a marked man, getting double teams and chip blocks from tight ends and backs. Under those circumstances 16 sacks may be difficult, but with a dozen or so Burgess proves he's not a one-year wonder.

Stuart Schweigert
: It will be largely up to Schweigert to make sure members of the secondary — particularly versatile rookie Michael Huff — are lined up in the right place.

Most important, Schweigert, Purdue's all-time leader in interceptions, needs to reintroduce himself to that skill for a Raiders team that set an all-time NFL low (five) in interceptions over a 16-game season.

Fabian Washington: Can he become Oakland's lockdown corner and intercept some passes in the process? He had a solid rookie year and has the speed to be something special. He is the lone corner on the roster with the skills to become the lockdown corner Charles Woodson never became.

Jerry Porter: Porter can be funny and engaging one moment, moody and surly the next. His play has been much like his moods — memorable catches and games mixed in with periods in which he becomes invisible.

Former teammate Lincoln Kennedy said in a radio interview Porter wants out, although the receiver has never said it publicly. His contract makes that unlikely this year, and with Moss and Doug Gabriel on the roster, the Raiders need Porter to become a reliable, physical third-down target that makes the difficult, drive-sustaining receptions.
 
Two biggest idiots on that list?

Porter and Janikowski. :mad;

Those two better get their attitudes straight.
 
Angry Pope said:
Sebastian Janikowski: If Janikowski does not ascend to the status Shane Lechler enjoys among the NFL's punters, he could be on his way out after this season. Never mind the mystery surrounding his inability to consistently produce touchbacks — what the Raiders need is someone who converts everything inside of 45 yards plus the occasional clutch kick from 50 and beyond.

If Janikowski had done that last year, the Raiders might have won seven games, and Turner might still have a job.
Now, a new season looming on the horizon, I can say, "Thank God he missed those kicks."
 
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