4 Oakland Raiders

Excellence may be out of the question for now, but an infusion of optimism hints at a commitment to competence, at least
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> After lastyear's 2-14 debacle, the worst in a recent string of miserable seasons, ownerAl Davis replaced coach Art Shell with USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin,who at 32 is new to the Raiders, new to the NFL and new to head coaching.Kiffin brought in 15 assistants, including offensive coordinator Greg Knapp andoffensive line coach Tom Cable, both late of Atlanta, to help overhaul theleague's worst offense. Among the new acquisitions are three quarterbacks,including No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell. While he and the Raiders worked on acontract, holdover Andrew Walter and newcomers Josh McCown and Daunte Culpepperwere vying for the opening-day starting job. In his first preseason startCulpepper looked mobile, efficient and commanding enough to be the man. "Ifeel like a starter," he said after the game.

Most crucially,there is teamwide confidence, optimism and unity. Unlike last year, offensiveplayers say they have a clear idea of what they're supposed to be doing, andthey're enjoying learning their roles. "Last year there was a really bigdistance between players and the coaching staff," says running back LaMontJordan. "This staff jokes around with us. We're allowed to show ourpersonality. The message is, 'We have work to do, but we're all going to havefun while we're doing it.' People don't realize how big that is and how much wewere missing that around here."

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> Given thenew vibe, it's hard to imagine Oakland won't be better than in 2006, when theefforts of one of the league's best defenses were blotted out by a muddledattack that produced league worsts in points (168), yards (3,939) and turnovers(43). How much better will depend a lot on the line, which has three of fivestarters back from the group that allowed 72 sacks (surprise!--a league worst).Cable has moved all the holdovers but center Jake Grove to a new position andput in a zone-blocking scheme similar to those used by Atlanta and Denver. Sofar the O-line has responded well. "We're happy with the changes, and welove [Cable] because of what he's been able to teach us," says left tackle(formerly left guard) Barry Sims. "I think we've been doing better thanpeople expected, but we aren't anywhere close to what we are capableof."

With Randy Mossgone to New England, the offense lacks a big-play star, but it does have lotsof players with big things to prove. Jerry Porter, who spent the entire year inShell's doghouse (he had one catch last season, after leading the team with 76in 2005), will be sharing pass-catching duties with Ronald Curry, a situationalreceiver last year who'll be starting regularly for the first time in hissix-year career. The running game, 29th in the league in '06, will featurefree-agent acquisition Dominic Rhodes--though the former Colt must first servea four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy--and arejuvenated Jordan, who took a pay cut to keep his job after a miserable '06season in which he gained just 434 yards on 114 carries before missing the lastmonth and a half with a knee injury. "This year I'd like to do what I wasbrought in here to do, and that's be a dominant running back," says Jordan,who came from the Jets as a free agent in 2005. "Coach Kiff is going togive me that opportunity."

Once againOakland's strength will be its defense, which was third in the NFL overall andfirst against the pass thanks in large part to a trio of standouts. One istackle Warren Sapp, the 13th-year vet who earned seven straight Pro Bowl nodswith Tampa Bay between 1997 and 2003. Despite 10 sacks last year he wassnubbed for Hawaii--and in response dropped 52 pounds (to 282). Rejoining himon the line is defensive end Derrick Burgess, who did get a Pro Bowl invite,his second straight. Plagued by injuries in Philly, where he totaled 81⁄2 sacksin four years, Burgess has flourished since joining Oakland in 2005, notching aleague-high 16 sacks that year and 11 in '06. "It's just being healthy,man," says Burgess, explaining his surge. "And it's experience. Myfocus is a lot better."

Another playerwho made a compelling if ultimately unrewarded Pro Bowl case last year (afterreceiving a last-minute invite, he couldn't get a flight in time to make it toHonolulu) was cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, whose eight interceptions tied forthird in the league. "The Pro Bowl would be nice recognition," he says,"but it isn't as important as winning."

There will bemore of that in Oakland this year, though not enough to upset the AFC Westpecking order. "We have a promising look," says Jordan. "Nobody isgiving us a chance, but if our offense performs we'll win a lot of games,because we have a hell of a defense and a hell of a coaching staff."

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

COACH LANE KIFFIN(0-0 in NFL), first season with Raiders

JERRY PORTER

POS WR

REC 1

YARDS 19

TD 0

LAMONT JORDAN

POS RB

ATT 114

YARDS 434

AVG 3.8

REC 10

YARDS 74

AVG 7.4

TD 2

DAUNTE CULPEPPER"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS QB

ATT 134

COMP 81

PCT 60.4

YARDS 929

TD 2

INT 3

RATING 77.0

JUSTIN GRIFFITH"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS FB

ATT 19

YARDS 106

AVG 5.6

REC 23

YARDS 168

AVG 7.3

TD 4

RONALD CURRY

POS WR

REC 62

YARDS 727

TD 1

CORNELL GREEN"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS RT

HT 6' 6"

WT 315

G 14

COOPER CARLISLE"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS RG

HT 6' 5"

WT 295

G 16

JAKE GROVE

POS C

HT 6' 4"

WT 300

G 16

ROBERTGALLERY

POS LG

HT 6' 7"

WT 325

G 10

BARRY SIMS

POS LT

HT 6' 5"

WT 300

G 10

ZACH MILLER (R)"NEW ACQUISITION"

POS TE

REC 50

YARDS 484

TD 4

DEFENSE

THOMAS HOWARD

POS WLB

TACKLES 110

SACKS 0

INT 0

DERRICKBURGESS

POS LE

TACKLES 50

SACKS 11

WARREN SAPP

POS LT

TACKLES 47

SACKS 10

TERDELL SANDS

POS RT

TACKLES 44

SACKS 1

TOMMY KELLY

POS RE

TACKLES 68

SACKS 3 1‚ÅÑ2

SAM WILLIAMS

POS SLB

TACKLES 44

SACKS 1

INT 0

NNAMDIASOMUGHA

POS CB

TACKLES 50

INT 8

STUARTSCHWEIGERT

POS FS

TACKLES 107

SACKS 0

INT 0

KIRK MORRISON

POS MLB

TACKLES 127

SACKS 1

INT 2

MICHAEL HUFF

POS SS

TACKLES 78

SACKS 0

INT 0

FABIANWASHINGTON

POS CB

TACKLES 40

INT 4

SEBASTIANJANIKOWSKI

POS K

FG 18-25

POINTS 70

SHANE LECHLER

POS P

PUNTS 77

AVG 47.5

NEWACQUISITION

(R) Rookie(college statistics)

> 2006 RECORD2-14 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 29/31/32 DEFENSE 25/1/3

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

9 DETROIT

16 at Denver

23 CLEVELAND

30 at Miami

OCTOBER

7 Bye

14 at San Diego

21 KANSAS CITY

28 at Tennessee

NOVEMBER

4 HOUSTON

11 CHICAGO

18 at Minnesota

25 at Kansas City

DECEMBER

2 DENVER

9 at Green Bay

16 INDIANAPOLIS

23 at Jacksonville

30 SAN DIEGO

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank T1

Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .539

Games against playoff teams 6

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PHOTOGREG TROTT/WIREIMAGE.COM Takedown Artist
Burgess is looking for a third straight season of double-digitsacks.
PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH ILLUSTRATION

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)