DURING HIS four years with the Jets, LaMont Jordan learned everything he could from fellow running back Curtis Martin. When coaches counseled Martin during games, Jordan eavesdropped on the conversations. When Martin carried the ball, Jordan studied how the five-time Pro Bowl player read blocks and found running lanes. There were even nights when Jordan watched how Martin handled his celebrity at swank New York City nightspots. Jordan wanted to know how to deal with the spotlight because he believed his time was coming--and he wanted to be ready.
After signing a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Raiders as a free agent in March, Jordan is getting his chance. If he can resurrect a ground attack that averaged a league-low 80.9 yards a game last season, he'll get plenty of attention. "I'm happier than I've ever been, and it's not just because of the money," says Jordan. "It's because I get to play a big role in somebody's offense. I haven't played a lot of football in four years, so I know that Sundays are going to be a lot of fun for me."
Though the March trade for wideout Randy Moss grabbed more headlines in the Bay Area and throughout the country (the deal with the Vikings was made final the day before Jordan signed), the acquisition of the 5'10", 230-pound Jordan was the most important move the Raiders made in the off-season. A bruising, between-the-tackles runner, he's sturdy enough to carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game and has the speed to get outside.
Most important, the presence of Jordan means the Oakland offense should be more balanced and less predictable, though the most potent element--Kerry Collins passing to Moss, Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry--remains the same. A more effective ground game will naturally lead to an increase in time of possession (the Raiders were last in the league in that category in '04), which will benefit a defense that ranked 30th.
Coach Norv Turner won't estimate how many touches Jordan will get each game, but Turner has a history as a coach and coordinator of getting the most out of talented backs. Like other Turner rushers Emmitt Smith (Cowboys), LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers), Stephen Davis (Redskins) and Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Jordan has the potential to dominate. "LaMont can do all the things we want to do in this offense," Turner says. "Everybody wants a runner, but LaMont is also an excellent receiver and a good blocker. Plus, he's lucky to have been behind a great veteran and to not have been rushed into playing earlier. I really think he's ready to take off."
Though excited about his new opportunity, Jordan won't go easy on himself. He says he's a perfectionist and won't tolerate dropping a pass or missing his assignment on a blitz. Having to sit behind a perennial 1,000-yard rusher for four years will do that to a man. Yet Jordan maintains he wouldn't trade that experience. A second-round draft selection out of Maryland with a questionable work ethic, he says he grew up during his time in New York with help from Martin and Richie Anderson, then a fullback with the team. "If it wasn't for guys like Curtis and Richie, I wouldn't still be in the league," Jordan says. "They taught me how to be a professional."
One thing that Jordan has never doubted is his ability. When he had the chance, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry with the Jets. And even as Martin won the NFL rushing title last season, Jordan rushed for a career-high 479 yards--more than any Oakland ballcarrier had. He emerged as the hottest free-agent running back on the market, but he knew immediately that Oakland was the place for him. He liked offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who had coached Jordan and the other Jets backs as an offensive assistant for two seasons in New York, and he loved the franchise's renegade history.
Now, even with a big contract, Jordan believes the only pressure he faces is living up to the expectations of wearing jersey number 34. "Bo Jackson wore that number here, so there's a certain history that goes with it," Jordan says. "And the only way to carry on that tradition is to do great things in at as well. That's what I'm planning on doing." --J.C.
There isn't a scarier wideout in the league than Randy Moss. In seven seasons, all with the Vikings, he caught 574 passes for 9,142 yards and a league-high 90 touchdowns. This year, free of the nagging injuries that hampered him in 2004, he should be as difficult as ever for defenses to handle. Not only does Moss have great size, speed and body control, but he also seems to be especially motivated because Minnesota gave up on him. Historically he's at his best when he has a chip on his shoulder.
ENEMY LINES: AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
Kerry Collins will be a more effective quarterback simply because he has more weapons around him. He has plenty of arm strength, but his problem is that he doesn't always make the right read.... Having a player like Randy Moss helps any quarterback. We're all hoping he'll still be the kind of player who will quit on his team and be a headache in the locker room, but in a place like Oakland, he'll probably fit right in. Jerry Porter is a freak. He'll run right through press coverage.... Warren Sapp has more left in his tank than people think, but it won't matter if he's still in the 3-4. He looks heavier and stiffer than he's ever been, and that's a sign of age. Of all the guys on the defensive line Derrick Burgess looks the most impressive. He has enough quickness to be a pretty effective pass rusher when they use the 4-3.... Charles Woodson has never really lived up to the hype he had coming out of college. He'll play hard in certain games and then dog it in others. Plus he's always had the skills to be a ball hawk, but he's never been a big interception guy. That said, he's still so athletic that any defense would love to get him in its secondary.
"Warren Sapp has more left in the tank than people think, but it won't matter if he's still in the 3-4."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics
LAMONT JORDAN (NEW ACQUISITION)
XPs MADE 31
XPs ATT. 32
FG MADE 25
FG ATT. 28
RANDY MOSS (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS. LT ¬†
POS. C ¬†
HEIGHT 6'4" ¬†
TACKLES 12 ¬†
SACKS 1/2 ¬†
SACKS 2 1/2
TACKLES 41 ¬†
DERRICK BURGESS (NEW ACQUISITION)
SACKS 2 1/2
SACKS 2 1/2
2004 RECORD: 5-11
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
COACH: Norv Turner; second season with Oakland (54-70-1 in NFL)
*2003 stats PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)
8 at New England (T)
18 KANSAS CITY
25 at Philadelphia
9 Open date
16 SAN DIEGO
30 at Tennessee
6 at Kansas City
20 at Washington
4 at San Diego
11 at N.Y. Jets
24 at Denver (S)
31 N.Y. GIANTS (S)
NFL rank: T8 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .527 Games against playoff teams: 7