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Online Raiders Lines & Predictions - Oakland Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 Oakland Raiders Season Preview

2006 Raiders NFL News - August 31st, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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At some point, the commitment to excellence became a commitment to over-indulgence, or maybe a commitment to unchecked, unharnessed ego. The storied Raiders of the 1970s and early 1980s went away, replaced by an organization

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that paid lip service to competing for championships without doing the things that NFL franchises do in the interests of sustaining success.

Mercurial team owner Al Davis fired coaches, ran off star players, and drafted kickers in the first round against the advice of those he had hired to assist him with such matters. And though the Raiders made some playoff appearances, and posted winning seasons here and there, they weren't often taken seriously or listed with the elite franchises in the league any longer.

The organization reached a new low in the three-year period of 2003 to 2005, winning 13 games and losing 35. Two more head coaches were dispensed with during that span, and Davis had trouble finding someone who wanted to work for him (an aside: when the head coach at Louisville turns down a head coaching job in the NFL, it's probably a pretty bad job). Davis reached into the past to re-hire Art Shell, a man who had been out of coaching for the past half- decade. The NFL pundits laughed. And then something magic happened.

Suddenly, the Raiders began to do some things that made them resemble a professional organization. They signed Aaron Brooks, a talented player still in the prime of his career, to serve as quarterback. They used the draft not as a tool for their own hubris but to select players that could actually help them, guys like Texas safety Michael Huff and UTEP linebacker Thomas Howard. A majority of the existing players, fed up with losing, seemed to buy into what Shell, the hard-nosed disciplinarian, was selling. And from beyond those ominous, silver-and-black streaked clouds came a glimmer of light suggesting that Oakland's dark age might be about to end, and some wins might be about to rain down from the sky.

Then the Raiders signed Jeff George and we all woke up.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the Oakland Raiders, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 4-12 (4th, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002, lost to Tampa Bay, 48-21, in Super Bowl

COACH (RECORD): Art Shell (54-38 in six seasons with Raiders (1989-94), 54-38 overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tom Walsh

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rob Ryan

OFFENSIVE STAR: Randy Moss, WR (60 receptions, 1005 yards, 8 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Derrick Burgess, DE (57 tackles, 16 sacks)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 29th rushing, 10th passing, 23rd scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 25th rushing, 18th passing, 25th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: San Diego (9/11), at Denver (10/15), Pittsburgh (10/29), Denver (11/12), at Kansas City (11/19)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Aaron Brooks (from Saints), QB Jeff George (free agent), OL Paul McQuistan (3rd Round, Weber State), DE Lance Johnstone (from Vikings), DT Rashad Moore (from Seahawks), OLB Thomas Howard (2nd Round, UTEP), LB Darnell Bing (4th Round, USC), CB Duane Starks (from Patriots), CB Tyrone Poole (from Patriots), S Michael Huff (1st Round, Texas)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Kerry Collins (released), G Ron Stone (released), DT Ted Washington (released), DT Ed Jasper (to Eagles), LB Tim Johnson (to Ravens), CB Charles Woodson (to Packers), CB Renaldo Hill (to Dolphins), CB Denard Walker (released), S Derrick Gibson (not tendered)

QB: After a couple of mostly ineffective seasons on the job, the Raiders parted ways with quarterback Kerry Collins (3759 passing yards, 20 TD, 12 INT), who threw for a lot of yards, made a lot of critical mistakes, and presided over a lot of losses. Enter Aaron Brooks (2882 passing yards, 13 TD, 17 INT with the Saints) who engendered similar "good physical skills, questionable leadership skills" criticism during his career in New Orleans. Brooks is only 30, and the Silver and Black feel that they can get a few good years out of him. The next man in if Brooks fails will be 6-foot-5, 234-pound Andrew Walter, a third-round 2005 pick out of Arizona State who many in the organization are high on. Oakland really should do the humane thing and let Marques Tuiasosopo (124 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) go after five seasons on the roster and just two starts, and the late preseason signing of the ancient Jeff George was perhaps an indication that this scenario was about to occur. The 38-year-old George hasn't been on an NFL roster since 2004 with the Bears, and hasn't thrown an NFL pass since 2001 with the Redskins, but Shell seemed serious about including him on the final roster.

RB: LaMont Jordan (1025 rushing yards, 70 receptions, 11 TD), didn't become the Tomlinson-like presence that many expected him to be in his first year as a Raider, but he did put up the first 1,000-yard season of his five-year career and immediately improved the running game. Jordan was sidelined by a toe injury for the final two games of the year, but the ailment is not expected to linger into 2006. Justin Fargas (28 rushing yards) has a beat on the backup job to Jordan, and trusty 33-year-old fullback Zack Crockett (208 rushing yards, 1 TD, 13 receptions) can always shift to tailback in a pinch as well. John Paul Foschi (6 receptions) looked poised to make the team as a fullback and special teams player, meaning newcomers ReShard Lee (16 rushing yards with the Packers) and Rod Smart (6 rushing yards with the Panthers) were likely fighting for one spot.

WR/TE: For the second straight season, the Raider receiving corps has the potential to be the scariest in the league. The wideout group failed to live up to that potential last season, though both Randy Moss (60 receptions, 8 TD) and Jerry Porter (76 receptions, 5 TD) managed to put together productive years. Both Moss and Porter had their disgruntled moments during their first training camp under Shell, as Moss intimated that he preferred quarterback Andrew Walter to Aaron Brooks, and Porter was shopped on the trade market after having a falling out with his new head coach prior to mini-camp. If Moss and Porter are both healthy, happy, and in the same lineup on opening day, watch out. Should the team find a late taker for Porter, the speedy Doug Gabriel (37 receptions, 3 TD) will step into a starting job. Alvis Whitted (14 receptions) also figures to stick around, and Ronald Curry (2 receptions) will try to make it back on the field after missing most of 2005 and training camp in 2006 after tearing his Achilles. Unless Porter is dealt, either Carlos Francis or Johnnie Morant will be on the outside looking in. At tight end, Shell and offensive coordinator Tom Walsh are happy with 6-foot-7, 270-pound Courtney Anderson (24 receptions, 3 TD), and converted receiver Randal Williams (13 receptions) will probably be kept around because of his skill on special teams. O.J. Santiago, who hasn't played in an NFL game since 2003, was battling first-year player James Adkisson for the third tight end job late into the preseason.

OL: This maturing group appears poised for a breakout season, and the team's development up front could ignite an offensive renaissance to last into the next decade in Oakland. Third-year-player and former No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery is the key, moving from right tackle to left tackle to ensure that Brooks has time to throw downfield to those talented receivers. Moving from left tackle to left guard is Barry Sims, who has been a fixture in the lineup over the past seven seasons and is probably overqualified to play inside. The right side is shakier. Tackle Langston Walker is big (6-8, 345-pound) but has started just 17 games in four NFL seasons, and guard Paul McQuistan (3rd Round, Weber State) is a rookie just one year removed from facing Sacramento State and Idaho State in the Big Sky Conference. Center Jake Grove is looking for some stability in the middle after jumping around from guard to center in his first two years in the league, though 10-year vet Adam Treu (10 starts at center last season) is still around and Grove could be pushed back to guard of needed. Brad Badger has started 20 games at guard over the past two seasons, and is also capable of backing up the tackle position. In addition to Treu and Badger, holdovers Corey Hulsey and Chad Slaughter, as well as rookies Kevin Boothe (6th Round, Cornell) and Chris Morris (7th Round, Michigan State), were attempting to win backup jobs as the preseason neared its conclusion.

DL: The Raiders will complete the transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 this season, with the new scheme suiting the team's personnel much more naturally than did the previous alignment. At the heart of the pass rush will be end Derrick Burgess (57 tackles, 16 sacks), the NFL sack leader a year ago, and nose tackle Warren Sapp (32 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 INT), whose skills were marginalized in the 3-4. Sapp is 33 and in decline, but the Raiders believe that he can again log 8-10 sacks and be a disruptive force in the passing game. Also starting up front will be end Tyler Brayton (16 tackles, 1 sacks), a former first-round pick who did not mesh well with the 3-4, and tackle Tommy Kelly (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks), an unheralded but high-effort player who started 12 games last season. There is good depth up front. Bobby Hamilton (56 tackles, 2 sacks) is one of the better run-stopping ends in the league, and ex-Viking Lance Johnstone (20 tackles, 7.5 sacks with Minnesota) will be useful when the team is seeking a situational pass-rusher. On the inside, Terdell Sands (10 tackles, 1 sack) will be handy in a backup role, and 2005 sixth-round draft pick Anttaj Hawthorne (2 tackles) looks primed for a larger role.

LB: The Oakland linebacking crew was perceived to be among the league's weakest last season, with young players forced into key roles and a couple of people playing out of position within the scheme. The switch to a pure 4-3 eliminates those problems almost immediately, though youth will still be served in the linebacking corps. Back in the middle will be second-year-pro Kirk Morrison (116 tackles), who was a starter right away after being taken in the third round out of San Diego State, and whose career is on the rise. The projected outside linebackers are Sam Williams and Thomas Howard, though there are concerns about both. Williams started four games in 2004, but missed all of 2005 after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Howard (2nd Round, UTEP) was extremely impressive in training camp, but is a raw player from a lower- echelon college program and figures to have some growing pains. Slated for backup duties are Danny Clark (113 tackles, 1 sack), who has been a great tackler but not much of a playmaker over the course of his career, and Darnell Bing (4th Round, USC) who is being moved from a college strong safety to a pro linebacker. Holdover Grant Irons (4 tackles) figures to make the roster, but ex-Packer Robert Thomas (41 tackles, 1 INT with Green Bay), who struggled with a calf injury during training camp, might not.

DB: There is a changing of the guard in the Oakland secondary, as the eight- year reign of cornerback Charles Woodson (30 tackles, 1 INT) is over. Woodson made four Pro Bowls from 1998-2001 and still had terrific skills as a cover corner, but his playmaking had diminished in recent years and his attitude was a serious question mark. In to assume the role of the team's top defensive back is strong safety and No. 7 overall draft pick Michael Huff (Texas), who is being counted on to bring a playmaking element to a defense that notched a league-low five interceptions last season. Huff figures to unseat Derrick Gibson (35 tackles, 1 sack) at strong safety sooner rather than later, with Stuart Schweigert (87 tackles, 2 INT) manning the free safety slot. The cornerbacks will be 2005 16-game starter Nnamdi Asomugha (60 tackles) and '05 first-round draft pick Fabian Washington (43 tackles), who rebounded from a slow start to open 11 contests last season. Backups at corner will be return man extraordinaire Chris Carr (9 tackles) and fellow holdover Stanford Routt (24 tackles, 1 sack). Ex-Patriot Tyrone Poole (1 tackle with New England) is 34 but has a chance to make the team as a backup, and safety Jarrod Cooper (54 tackles, 0.5 sacks) will be on the roster because of his special teams prowess.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Sebastian Janikowski's (20-30 FG) leg was erratic last season, but the Polish power dropped some weight on the offseason and seems to have regained his form. Punter Shane Lechler (45.7 avg.) has averaged more than 45 yards per kick in five of his six NFL seasons, and his job is safe. Chris Carr (24.0 kickoff return avg., 5.5 punt return avg.) needs to break a big return in a regular season game, or his position will be in jeopardy. Adam Treu, the rare NFL long snapper who can play other positions on the team, is going on his 10th season in Oakland.

PROGNOSIS: The Oakland Raiders are beginning to resemble an NFL team again, and that should scare the daylights out of the rest of the AFC West. Norv Turner's fantasy camp has been replaced by Art Shell's boot camp, and Shell has gotten his point across that losing football games is unacceptable. Whether or not you think Shell was the best hire, and whether or not you believe he should have dusted off Tom Walsh as his offensive coordinator, this is a team that will, at the very least, play with more intensity and desire. But lest the rest of the NFL should think otherwise, this team also has quite a bit of talent. The receiving corps is good enough that Brooks should succeed, Jordan is one of the top dozen or so backs in the league, and the offensive line is green, but is also skilled and deep. But where the Silver and Black should really see improvement is on defense, where the scheme finally makes sense and there are number of playmakers, mostly of the young variety, flying around. All of those factors put together mean that Oakland has a fighting chance to be one of the NFL's surprise teams in 2006, with a good shot at reaching for a postseason berth if everything goes according to plan.


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