1 Oakland Raiders The clock is ticking for an aging team that still carries a chip on its shoulder

September 01, 2002

The Raiders spent their summer in a state of bliss, believing
that only the zebras cost them the Lombardi Trophy, shrugging off
the departure of coach Jon Gruden and insisting that Gruden's
successor, Bill Callahan, is the ideal leader for a team looking
to build on its recent success. Whether Callahan's players are
divinatory or delusional won't be revealed until the second
Sunday of September, so until then everything is golden in the
world of Silver and Black.

Leave it to All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson, who forced the
apparent fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in last
January's AFC divisional playoff clash that precipitated the most
famous replay reversal in NFL history (and ratcheted up Raider
Nation's already robust paranoia to uncharted levels), to sound a
cautionary note. "Coach Callahan seems to be his own man, but
just like anybody who's in a new role, he's trying to feel his
way through," Woodson says. "The bottom line is, we're really not
going to know anything until we go out there and strap it up."

That's the deal for anyone coaching in the strange kingdom of
Raiders owner Al Davis, whom observers of recent practices
describe as revitalized and peppy. That could be a scary prospect
for Callahan, 46, the team's offensive coordinator for four years
but a first-time head coach--one who is replacing a man who
reveled in ignoring Davis's ideas. Will the hiring of Callahan
mark the return of the Al Davis Puppet Theater (Joe Bugel, please
pick up the white courtesy phone), or will he make fans forget
the coach who transformed a franchise's collective attitude and
netted four high draft picks and $8 million from the Bucs?

It's a loaded question, because the Raiders have assembled a
roster designed to produce instant gratification. Ten of
Oakland's projected starters are 30 or older, including three
high-profile free-agent signees: defensive tackle John Parrella
(32), linebacker Bill Romanowski (36) and free safety Rod Woodson
(37).

The key to it all, as it has been since he came to Oakland in
1999, is Rich Gannon, 36. Though he is perhaps Gruden's biggest
fan, Gannon is excited by Callahan's attention to detail and
coaching vision. A Pro Bowl quarterback for the past three
seasons, Gannon scoffs at suggestions that with surrogate
godfather Gruden gone, his prickly approach toward motivating
teammates might need to be scrapped. "That's bull----," Gannon
says. "I ain't gonna change."

Still, there are potential issues. After years of lauding
off-season workouts as the reason for the team's
turnaround--Oakland is coming off consecutive AFC West titles
after missing the playoffs the previous six seasons--the
quarterback skipped the team's voluntary sessions while mired in
a contract dispute. (He signed a six-year, $54 million deal in
July.) "It could have been an issue if he'd come back and
struggled," says fullback Jon Ritchie, "but when he showed up for
the start of training camp, it was like he was never gone."

Gannon believes this year's Raiders will be more disciplined than
their immediate predecessors, partly because of whom they've
added and partly because of deletions like suspended defensive
tackle Darrell Russell. Already former Chargers standout
Parrella, the anti-Russell, has blown away his new teammates with
his all-out effort and gritty maturity. "That guy [Russell] had
the worst attitude ever, and he brought a lot of others down with
him," one offensive starter says. "Parrella's a beast who's all
heart."

While he isn't armed with Gruden's trademark glare or overt
bravado--"I don't get in people's faces and scream and holler,"
Callahan says--Coach Cali has convinced his charges that he's no
feckless flunky. During a hot practice in early August, Callahan
stunned his players by halting a nearly completed series of
passing drills and ordering a do-over, meaning an extra 20
minutes of work. Plenty of Raiders cursed under their breath, but
they left the field with a newfound respect for Callahan.

"That's the first time we've had that experience," Ritchie says.
"But looking back, he was right. We've really taken to Coach
Cali, because he's honest and consistent."

Everyone in Raider Nation is full of Cali love--at least until the
games begin. --M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Gannon scoffs at the notion that he'll have to change now that Gruden is gone. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS BUCHANON

NEW TWIST

--It always irked Al Davis that his beloved deep throw was
virtually nonexistent in Jon Gruden's offense, so expect the
Raiders to take more chances downfield. Because wideouts Jerry
Rice and Tim Brown don't have many go routes left in their Hall
of Fame legs, look for third-year speedster Jerry Porter to be
used as a deep threat.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Raiders

"They've got to get it done this year, because of their age, but
it's going to be tough. I don't think a lot of people realize
what Jon Gruden meant to this team. Bill Callahan has a tough,
tough job ahead of him.... Rich Gannon is not as quick as he used
to be, but he's a very smart guy who knows where everybody is....
Charlie Garner is so quick, and he's tough too.... Watching Jerry
Rice on film last year, it was like, Are you kidding me? He
looked better than he had in a couple of years, and he'll be good
again.... Jerry Porter is not very consistent. He's a big, fast
athlete, but someday he's got to find his niche and make it
happen.... Tory James is a straight-line guy; it might take a few
games, but I think Phillip Buchanon will beat him out. The kid's
got all the tools, and once he adjusts to the NFL--man, can you
imagine pairing him with Charles Woodson? Having those two guys
at corner, I might wet my pants.... John Parrella? Oh, God,
they've helped themselves tremendously with that guy. Darrell
Russell took on blockers maybe one out of four times; Parrella
goes hard every play. He's like a storekeeper; nobody will run up
the middle against those guys.... I don't know how much Bill
Romanowski's got left, but if nothing else, he'll set the tempo
for their young players, in games and in practices.... Rod
Woodson is so damn smart, and he'll keep everyone lined up in the
right spots; they haven't had a safety who can do that in a long
time."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 SEATTLE
15 at Pittsburgh
22 Open date
29 TENNESSEE

Oct. 6 at Buffalo
13 at St. Louis
20 SAN DIEGO
27 at Kansas City

Nov. 3 SAN FRANCISCO
11 at Denver (Mon.)
17 NEW ENGLAND
24 at Arizona

Dec. 2 N.Y. JETS (Mon.)
8 at San Diego
15 at Miami
22 DENVER
28 KANSAS CITY (Sat.)

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T7
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .527
Games against playoff teams: 6

[BOX]

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Bill Callahan; first season as a head coach
2001 RECORD: 10-6 (first in AFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 24/4/7; defense 22/9/18

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Rich Gannon 22
549 att. 361 comp. 65.8% 3,828 yds. 27 TDs 9 int. 95.5 rtg.

RB Charlie Garner 54
211 att. 839 yds. 4.0 avg. 72 rec. 578yds. 8.0 avg. 3 TDs

RB Tyrone Wheatley 106
88 att. 276 yds. 3.1 avg. 12 rec. 61yds. 5.1 avg. 6 TDs

FB Jon Ritchie 277
0 att. 0 yds. no avg. 19 rec. 154 yds. 8.1 avg. 2 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Tim Brown 30 91 rec. 1,165 yds. 9 TDs
WR Jerry Rice 47 83 rec. 1,139 yds. 9 TDs
WR Jerry Porter 236 19 rec. 220 yds. 0 TDs
TE Roland Williams 184 33 rec. 298 yds. 3 TDs
K Sebastian Janikowski 260 42/42 XPs 23/28 FGs 111 pts.
PR Reggie Barlow [1] 432 29 ret. 6.9 avg. 0 TDs
KR Terry Kirby 349 46 ret. 23.2 avg. 1 TDs

LT Barry Sims 6'5" 300 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Frank Middleton 6'4" 330 lbs. 13 games 12 starts
C Barret Robbins 6'3" 320 lbs. 2 games 2 starts
RG Mo Collins 6'4" 325 lbs. 5 games 4 starts
RT Lincoln Kennedy 6'6" 335 lbs. 15 games 15 starts

DEFENSE

LE Chris Cooper 14 tackles 2 sacks
LT Sam Adams [N] 19 tackles 2 sacks
RT John Parrella [N] 61 tackles 2 sacks
RE Tony Bryant 28 tackles 5 sacks
OLB Bill Romanowski [N] 55 tackles 7 sacks
MLB Greg Biekert 81 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Eric Barton 29 tackles 0 sacks
CB Charles Woodson 39 tackles 1 int.
SS Derrick Gibson 15 tackles 1 int.
FS Rod Woodson [N] 55 tackles 3 int.
CB Phillip Buchanon (R) [N] 23 tackles 5 int.
P Shane Lechler 73 punts 46.2 avg.

[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)
[1] 2000 statistics

"I don't think a lot of people realize what Gruden meant to this
team. Callahan has a tough job."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)